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The Pulse of Volunteerism: Drury releases first-of-its-kind study

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How does a nonprofit supply over $200,000 of food to 65,000 people a year with only three full-time employees?

It’s not a riddle. It’s the reality of volunteerism at the Crosslines food pantry.

The answer: The work of 500 volunteers a month contributing 34,000 hours of service a year.

Crosslines is among a large number of local agencies dependent on volunteerism, and a new study by Drury University’s Center for Nonprofit Leadership counts the impact.

Economically, volunteer work by nearly 55,000 people has a $43.5 million value, according to the study that examined the efforts in Greene and Christian counties the last two years.

To put a persona on it, the study determined the average volunteer in Springfield is a well-educated female over 40 years old with annual income above $50,000.

But the 30-page report drills down deeper. Some of the key findings:

• Area volunteers perform 155,000 hours of service per month.

• Individuals serve 96 hours per year on average.

• Over 37 percent of volunteers have a college degree.

• Over 90 percent donated money to a charity within the past year.

 “People tend to give their time because they’re asked,” said Dan Prater, the volunteerism study organizer and director of Drury’s Center for Nonprofit Leadership.

The statistics make a correlation between volunteer rates and socioeconomics. For instance, the most active wage bracket is for those earning $50,000-$75,000 a year. Another 25 percent of volunteers bring home $100,000 or more.

Education is a big determinant, and nearly 70 percent of volunteers have earned college or post-graduate degrees.

“The people who volunteer in formal groups are four to five times more educated,” Prater said, adding those resources result in more asks for donations.

Shortcomings
The first statistics of its kind locally also revealed shortcomings of volunteerism.

“We found out there is a critical shortage of volunteers in the Springfield area,” Prater said.

Representatives of organizations surveyed say unmet volunteer needs would require another 7,800 people participating.

The study also determined a low rate of formal volunteerism among minorities. Only 6 percent of volunteers surveyed identified as African American, Asian, Hispanic or other ethnicities.

“That’s troubling for a community that is trying to become diverse. Most of the opportunities are a square peg and the peg is Caucasian with education,” Prater said.

Crosslines Director Tom Faulkner said the void in minorities is evident at the Council of Churches’ food pantry program.

“Primary volunteers are white males or white females,” he said. “We certainly serve minorities. We struggle all the time to provide as much dignity to the people we serve, and I think it would make them feel more comfortable to be served by other minorities.”

Prater acknowledged minorities are tight within their groups and often help each other, an informal type of volunteerism.

“They are very engaged but not as active on the formal level,” he said.

The Crosslines food pantry is open 24 hours a week, and Faulkner said it’s fully staffed by volunteers. “There’s no way this mission could be done without them,” he said.

However, new ideas are brewing that would require additional human resources.

“There are all kinds of other things we would like to do,” Faulkner said, pointing to objectives of making soap in-house and preparing skillet meals on-site that would reduce  sodium.  “That would save us money instead of purchasing it.”

The largest volunteer age bracket is 50-64 year olds, representing 29 percent of all volunteer work. On the other end of the generational spectrum, younger millennials ages 20-24 accounted for 7 percent of volunteerism – less than their share of the local population.

Episodic volunteering
Millennials, though, are not devoid of all forms of volunteerism.

“Millennials are engaging in social activism online and through their phones,” Prater said.

Particularly, episodic volunteering is where the younger generations help.

Compared to long-term commitments in traditional volunteering, the trend for episodic volunteers is demonstrated by one-day or short engagements with a clear sense of accomplishment. The study cited United Way of the Ozarks’ Day of Caring, which last year brought together 2,100 volunteers to complete 255 projects, as well as Salvation Army’s Red Kettle holiday program and Convoy of Hope  outreaches.

An event targeting the millennial mindset started this month as a partnership between Crosslines and Thrivent Financial. Called Give Back Mondays, the 30-minute service project is designed as a bridge to volunteerism. Organizers say about 15 people showed up at Crosslines to pack birthday bags and diapers to give away.

“We’re partnering with ministries that already do these things and do them well,” said Jeff Kohls, a Thrivent financial consultant. “We’re just creating opportunities for people to come in and experience that."

Next time, the group might sort food in the warehouse or clip product barcodes for Best Choice’s redemption program, Faulkner said.

Thrivent also has held its own packing events toward its mission of connecting faith and finances among its members, Kohls said. Pilot projects to assemble care packages with toiletries, water and snacks have been held at its East Sunshine Street office as well as a mixer at WineSpot in the Brentwood Center.

Financial resources
Special events are the leading type of volunteer work, identified by over half of those Drury surveyed. The next activities, and equally as popular, are board committee memberships and providing food, clothing or other items – both selected as common activities by 40 percent of volunteers.

An organizational affiliation is a strong connecting point, Prater said. Two-thirds of volunteers say they had an existing relationship, and one-fourth say volunteer work is required as part of membership.

At Crosslines, over 30 churches actively send members to volunteer and over 100 churches make financial contributions to the food pantry. Faulkner said the food costs exceed $215,000 a year, and church donations meet half that need.

The study shows 90 percent of individual volunteers also give financially.

“That could be an opportunity for organizations to consider,” Prater said

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