As volunteers, Kansas Citians rank high in service to others

In preparation for Christmas dinner, volunteer Rick Holzman of Olathe carved away Tuesday afternoon at the Salvation Army, 101 W. Linwood Blvd.
In preparation for Christmas dinner, volunteer Rick Holzman of Olathe carved away Tuesday afternoon at the Salvation Army, 101 W. Linwood Blvd. The Kansas City Star

About 487,500 volunteers contributed 68.2 million hours of unpaid service to nonprofit organizations and causes in the Kansas City area last year.

Those numbers, based on data indicating that 31.8 percent of the metropolitan area’s population did some kind of volunteer work in 2013, put Kansas City among the top 10 U.S. cities ranked by volunteer commitments.

The local ranking was ninth.

The report, “Volunteering and Civic Life in America,” estimated the value of those Kansas City area volunteer hours at $1.5 billion. That figure was part of a volunteer value estimated at $173 billion nationally, based on calculations by the Independent Sector.

The local information was part of a national report by the Corporation for National & Community Service and the National Conference on Citizenship.

The study found that the rate of volunteerism and civic engagement fell nationally in 2013. Overall, it looked at 20 indicators of “civic health” and found declines in 16 of the measures.

A similar volunteerism report, released earlier this year by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, also found a declining rate through its survey. According to that national snapshot, 62.6 million Americans did some kind of volunteer work in 2013, 2 million fewer than in 2012.

Nonetheless, the share of Americans who participate in formal volunteer activities has stayed fairly steady at about one in four members of the adult population.

Along most lines, the Kansas City data mirrored national trends.

Food collection and distribution, fundraising and “general labor” were the top three forms of volunteering found in the Kansas City report. About one in four volunteers were in each of those activities.

Nearly one in five area volunteers were involved in each of these activities: collecting and distributing food, tutoring or teaching, mentoring youths or providing some kind of professional or management services.

Smaller numbers of volunteers in the metro area were listed as coaching or managing sports teams, providing office services, contributing music or art talents, or providing emergency response or counseling.

Religious institutions were the leading beneficiary of local volunteering, accounting for 37.4 percent of the organizations. Educational institutions were second at 26.4 percent, and social service agencies were third at 15.3 percent.

Other organization types that received volunteer help included health organizations, accounting for 8.4 percent; civic organizations, 4.4 percent; and art or sports organizations, 2.5 percent. The remaining commitments were categorized as “other.”

Wendy Spencer, chief executive of the Corporation for National and Community Service, noted that the data primarily captured involvement in formal volunteer programs. Far more Americans do informal volunteering, such as helping neighbors or watching children.

“Not everyone wants to be formally connected,” Spencer said. “We welcome spontaneous volunteerism.”

Ilir Zherka, executive director of the National Conference on Citizenship, said one barrier to volunteering is cost cutting in nonprofit organizations.

“One of the things we have heard from a lot of our partners around the country is it has not been easy to hire the people who manage the volunteers,” Zherka said. “So for some of these organizations and institutions, their volunteer numbers are going down because their staff capacity has gone down.”

To reach Diane Stafford, call 816-234-4359 or send email to Read more from Diane at Twitter: @kcstarstafford.