Uncovering the Uneven Volunteerism Rates in Florida and Wyoming

by Michael Nguyen
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Help is decreasing across America for charities who need volunteers to build houses, serve food, and do environmental cleanup. In Florida, this help has decreased even more and now only 16% of people volunteer – that’s a drop from the 23% of people who volunteered in 2017.

The number of volunteers in Florida has gone down a lot due to the pandemic, which made it really dangerous for older people (who usually volunteer a lot) to go out and help. This makes life very hard for non-profit organizations, because they can’t hire as many paid workers or want more help then before but don’t have enough volunteers to make this happen.

The staff at nonprofit organizations in Florida are having to take on multiple roles due to the lack of volunteers, says Sabeen Perwaiz Syed from the Florida Nonprofit Alliance. This organization represents all the different charities in the state.

In Wyoming, the number of people volunteering increased instead of decreasing like other states. Almost 40% of residents volunteered in 2019 and that number is a bit higher than the 33% who volunteered in 2017. Volunteer work was easier to do safely since they have lots of open spaces, so more people are doing it now. Nonprofits hope to take advantage of all these volunteers as people become more interested in giving their time.

America’s AmeriCorps study of the recent US Census Bureau data, collected from 2017 to 2021 shows that some charities did not manage to keep volunteers during the pandemic. Nathan Dietz, a researcher at the University of Maryland’s Do Good Institute stated that those who struggled during this pandemic may find it difficult to bring in volunteers again.

Some organizations said during the pandemic, that they had no idea how to manage volunteers or keep them engaged. This made it hard for them to bring people back and get involved again in their programs.

Wyoming is famous for its big and open places, like Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Wyoming had fewer rules to follow which made it easier for volunteers to do their work without interruption.

The Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation is an organization near Grand Teton National Park that is focused on conservation. They need volunteers to collect information about the wildlife in the area and to take down fences that are not good for animals. The number of people who wanted to help this year was higher than it has been before, especially because of the pandemic.

Steve Morriss has been helping out with the local foundation and charity organizations for a while now. During this pandemic, he found outdoor volunteering activities super interesting because he could spend time with other people without being too close to them, and still do something great.

The Heart of Wyoming Habitat for Humanity team does a lot of work building homes in Natrona County and depends on help from volunteers. After they started working again during the pandemic, many people, especially businesses that gave money to Habitat before, let their employees take time off to volunteer there too.

The Wyoming Community Development Authority provided help last year. Its employees spent two days at a Habitat building site. The man in charge of this nonprofit organization, Tess Mittelstadt said that this gift was inspiring and he could see the impact it had on people living in the same community.

Jody Shields from the Wyoming Nonprofit Network says that since the pandemic started, a lot of companies have been interested in giving back to their community. Mittelstadt from the organization wants these volunteerism efforts to remain high by letting volunteers know who will benefit from the house-building projects. And also, Habitat invites everyone over for events highlighting homes which were constructed with their help.

The nonprofit’s volunteers worked really hard and dedicated 57% more hours building new homes in their last fiscal year compared to the previous one. Mittelstadt said that everybody knows someone who they can help and that is why everyone has been willing to volunteer.

Sadly, even though the pandemic is getting better, people have not returned to doing volunteer work in Florida says Perwaiz Syed of the Florida Nonprofit Alliance.

She said that a lot of volunteers at nonprofits have not come back because they are putting their health first. A study found that 40% of these organizations need more volunteering and 25% of their employees are doing extra work since they don’t have enough volunteers.

The Manatee Literacy Council provides adult literacy tutoring with the help of three part-time staff members and 60 volunteer tutors, mostly retirees. During the pandemic, their program lost 75% of its volunteers and could not meet the demand. Therefore, they have a waiting list of 100 people who need tutoring but cannot get it yet.

Michelle Deveaux McLean, the CEO of the council, is trying to get more volunteers by sending representatives to public events. She also organizes monthly meet-ups and creates an encouraging atmosphere in order to keep volunteers coming back. Unfortunately, she explained “I only normally have around five volunteers each month so it’s very difficult.”

In Florida, some nonprofits are using the internet to find volunteers and companies such as Office Depot to ask their employees to help them. For example, Office Depot has been sending workers since 2017 to do things like painting walls, gardening, cooking food for young people in Florida, etc., as part of the professional development of its staff. Even though charities try lots of different ways to get more volunteers, it may still take time.

Perwaiz Syed said that Florida’s numbers will go up gradually as the pandemic situation starts to become steady. He also added that it won’t be possible for these numbers to reach the top 10 really soon, but they will definitely improve a bit over time.

This article was given to Big Big News by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Kay Dervishi and Yesica Balderrama are both writers for the Chronicle. The AP and the Chronicle created this information, and they get help from the Lilly Endowment to cover nonprofits and philanthropy. If you want to learn more about philanthropy, you can go to https://bigbignews.net/philanthropy.

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