Civic Engagement and Volunteer Service


Civic engagement can take many forms: individual volunteerism, organizational development and leadership, public service, and electoral participation. A person’s level of engagement in society, their networks and associations, and the character of their community can have a major impact on their quality of life. Our nation faces critical challenges such as advancing diversity and racial equity and bridging serious social and partisan divides. Civic engagement has never been more relevant or important. 

One important form of civic engagement is volunteering. In 2019, about 78 million Americans—about 30 percent—reported that they volunteer for a service or organization. They provide nearly 5.8 billion hours of service each year, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service. Their work is worth an estimated $147 billion. As a result of their service, volunteers can experience increased engagement, happiness, and energy. Volunteering can also lead to decreased stress. It also represents an opportunity for intergenerational cooperation (see also Intergenerational Cooperation). 

Aside from adequate financing, two barriers prevent taking full advantage of volunteer resources. First, many people have trouble identifying the best opportunities. Second, older volunteers have skills and education levels that can robustly contribute to nonprofits. However, some nonprofits ask them to perform simple tasks rather than tapping into their vast expertise. 





Policymakers should expand opportunities for people to volunteer in their communities. This includes older adults and people with disabilities. Volunteers should come from culturally diverse communities. 

State governments should authorize state service commissions to expand service opportunities. These opportunities would help address community challenges, provide training, and build capacity in the volunteer sector. 

Policymakers should allocate sufficient funds and other resources to maximize volunteer service. Service should be promoted as a solution to community needs.