Each year, the Corporation for National & Community Service (CNCS) proposes survey questions for the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Current Population Survey (CPS). In recent years, there have been two sets of questions — one focused on civic life and the other on volunteering. Before that, the supplemental survey questions focused solely on volunteering.
In a surprising turn of events, this year CNCS has proposed combining the two sets of questions into one.
This proposal would cut a significant number of “volunteer” related questions (volunteer through an organization, type of volunteer activity, type of organization, etc.) and maintain more “civic” related questions (eat dinner with family, talk to neighbors, get involved with groups, etc.). This would, in turn, also eliminate volunteering data from their annual Volunteering and Civic Life in America (VCLA) report.
If you’re interested in the details, you can request a copy of their justification directly from CNCS by emailing Anthony Nerino at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As our only national record of volunteer participation in the US, removing volunteer information from this survey is a bad idea.
Removing questions related to volunteering from the CPS supplemental survey is problematic for several reasons. Here are three …
1) Our Field Needs Hard Data From Reliable Sources
Hard data can be powerful. Just last week, I received an email from a practitioner who had used our VolunteerPro Volunteer Management Progress Report to get cash resources for her rapidly growing volunteer program. When she was able to compare herself with others in the report, she was able to make a compelling case for support. Additional resources became a no-brainer for her board.
But few organizations have the bandwidth to conduct a national public survey. And, while we plan to continue our survey each year (for which we received no funding whatsoever), the results focus on volunteer managers, not volunteering trends.
Data collection and reporting on a national scale needs to be led by a national organization. Moreover, it needs to be consistently collected and sustainable. Longitudinal data is critical to our ability to track the national mood toward volunteering and whether or not future interventions bring results.
2) It Runs Against the Momentum Building in the Field of Volunteerism
This works against what I’m calling a “global groundswell” of acknowledgment and action on the behalf of volunteer-involving organizations to better advocate for our field.
Consider the case statement for the such as the 2017 National Summit on Volunteer Engagement Leadership, which calls out, “Many local and regional networks have weakened. Former mentors, authors, and trainers are aging out of the field, and there is a general lack of national visibility and voice for those who are mobilizing, supporting and retaining volunteers on the front lines of our communities.”
In June, I’ll be delivering two talks at five state volunteering conferences across Australia. The topic they requested? Leadership development and advocacy for volunteers and volunteerism. In my abstract, I note, “Now, more than ever, leaders of volunteers must become formidable advocates for themselves, their volunteer workforce and their volunteer-delivered services.”
At this moment in history, there is significant collective interest moving the field forward. The removal of volunteer questions from the Volunteering and Civic Life in America (VCLA) survey represent the further erosion of the evidence-based foundation we need to build from.
3) We Need Our National Institutions to Step Up & Represent
At the moment, there are certainly many threats that require the attention of our institutions. I would argue that supporting the capacity of organizations to involve volunteers is too important to be cast aside for a competing priority.
Volunteers are an enormous force for social good and touch nearly every cause across our nation. It is essential that leaders of volunteers have the information they need to advocate for resources and respect for this vital workforce. Data is part of that.
The BLS survey questions that provide data for the Volunteering and Civic Life in America (VCLA) are the only official record we have of volunteering in the United States. Maintaining its integrity year to year, therefore, is essential to making an informed case for our work and to validate the volunteers who serve our communities. We expect national institutions to proactively represent the interests of our field as key stakeholders.
Take Action by April 10
CNCS is open to public comment and has listed the opportunity in the Federal Register.
According to Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 25 / Wednesday, February 8, 2017, CNCS is particularly interested in comments that: “evaluate whether the proposed collection of information is necessary for the proper performance of the functions of CNCS, including whether the information will have practical utility.”
If you believe that national data on volunteering helps you better track trends and advocate for volunteers and volunteer-delivered services, now is the time to make your voice heard.
- If you belong to a local, regional, or national association of volunteer coordinators, consider submitting a letter on behalf of your network.
- If you work for a large national charity, consider submitting a letter on behalf of your national network.
- If you work for a local, state, regional, or national government program that relies on volunteers, consider submitting a letter on behalf of your network.
- If you are an academic researcher that relies on BLS data on volunteering, consider submitting a letter on behalf of your department or university.
Written comments must be submitted by any of the following three ways listed below by April 10, 2017 (be sure to reference Citation: 82 FR 9726 Document Number: 2017-02527 in your letter):
(1) By mail sent to: Corporation for National and Community Service, Attention Anthony Nerino, Research Analyst, Rm. #3235; 250 E St. SW., Washington, DC 20525.
(2) By hand delivery or by courier to the CNCS mailroom at Rm. #4300 at the mail address given in paragraph (1) above, between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays.
(3) Electronically through www.regulations.gov.
You can also help by spreading the word to colleagues who care about our field.
Act now if you want to keep volunteers in the VCLA survey. Comments are due by April 10.
What Do You Think?
Why do you think we need national volunteering data? Is this a problem, or am I barking up the wrong tree? Leave a reply below.