The United States leads the developed world in the number of citizens volunteering time, giving money and helping strangers, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Sixty percent of Americans engaged in philanthropic activities in March, compared to an average of 39 percent for the rest of the developed world, said the OECD in its latest issue of Society at a Glance, a global overview of social trends and policy changes.
Rates of volunteerism took a leap during the worst of the Recession. A record 1.6 million Americans joined the nation’s volunteer force in 2009. That year, a total of 63.4 million citizens dedicated themselves to helping their communities, providing 8.1 billion hours of service valued at $169 billion, according to Volunteering in America 2010, a study by the Corporation for National and Community Service.
Fundraising activities attracted the most volunteers (nearly 27 percent), while feeding the hungry was the second most common volunteer activity, involving nearly 24 percent of volunteers, the corporation said. Nearly 20 percent of volunteers are involved in tutoring or teaching.
Americans volunteer for a variety of reasons, but several studies indicate that in giving they also receive. More than 80 percent of volunteers surveyed in 2010 by United Healthcare said their charitable activities have made them feel physically healthier. More than 95 percent say the volunteering makes people happier. This volunteer high is known as the “feel good” effect.
While Americans of all ages and backgrounds volunteer, the tendency increases with wealth, reports Spectrem Group, a Chicago-area market research specializing in affluent investors. Households with a net worth of $25 million or more give substantial amounts to charity, and their largess outweighs expenditures on luxury items. Half give $25,000 or more to charity each year. Of these, 7 percent give $500,000 to $1 million, and 4 percent give $1million or more.
“Focus group interviews tell us that some of this giving is motivated by tax benefits, but most millionaires have a sincere desire to give back to the community,” said Catherine McBreen, Spectrem’s managing director. “Most wealthy people feel a genuine obligation to help people who are less fortunate, and to enrich the lives of all Americans through cultural programs.”
The charities most likely to benefit from these donations are schools, religious organizations, hospitals, social service groups and cultural groups.
Non-millionaire with $100,000 to $1 million to invest give an average of $1,741 a year and donate an average of 70 hours of their time. Millionaires with up to $5 million give an average of $5,080 a year, and donate 137 hours. Millionaires with $5 million to $25 million also donate an average of 70 hours, but give an average of $13,207 a year.