Volunteerism on the rise, as charitable giving goes downby Michael Caputo, Minnesota Public Radio
On the National Day of Service, President-elect Barack Obama called on Americans to give their time to help others. And some Minnesotans say they're volunteering more, because they can't afford to donate as much to charitable groups.
St. Paul, Minn. — Julie Weaver of St. Louis Park has long donated dollars to charitable organizations, especially those that promote the arts and that help the needy.
But the economy is forcing Weaver, an insurance professional, to cut expenses. That includes her donations.
"If you used to give $50 a year, which I did, or $100 a year if I was really feeling flush, I can't do that now," said Weaver.
And here is another recent change for Weaver. Since September she's given one night a week to Regions Hospital, comforting the sick.
Last Friday night Weaver strode down the hallway on the eighth floor of Regions, a clipboard in hand, to the nurses station. After a brief chat with the nurse, Weaver went to the patient's bedside and explained what she was there to do.
Weaver is a practitioner of the alternative therapy called Reiki - a high touch practice that specialists say uses energy to heal areas of pain.
With new age music in the background she placed her hands on the woman's feet, her midsection, her forehead. She joked with the patient, telling her that she's like "the AAA truck. I jump-start what you already have."
Sometimes Weaver's hands were just above the woman. Occasionally, she swept them over the patient like a swimmer treading water.
Weaver discovered Reiki when she battled colon cancer seven years ago. She learned the practice and used it from time-to-time on friends and family.
Only four months ago she began offering her therapy, free-of-charge to patients at Regions. Whether it was conscious or not, Weaver began volunteering just as she began cutting back on her financial donations.
"This is what I can do," Weaver said. "My time is worth something. My skills are worth something. This is how I can give without signing a check."
Weaver isn't alone in trading dollars and cents for sweat equity. Linda Koelman, pastor of North United Methodist Church, runs a clothing closet for the poor.
"We're finding that people are, instead of giving more in dollars each week, asking if there is something they can do can they help in the office, can they help in the clothing closet," Koelman said.
The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits found that nearly half of the roughly 2,000 members surveyed in December said they are dealing with reduced donations. Only 8 percent said they are seeing a reduction in volunteer hours. It's a gap that may very well grow as the Obama administration emphasizes service. The question is whether this shift helps the bottom line of nonprofits.
Bonnie Marshall directs charitable giving for the Arc of the Greater Twin Cities, which serves people with developmental disabilities. Marshall said if a charitable organization just learns the skills and talents of volunteers willing to give their time, then it surely can help balance the books.
"So for example, pro bono legal support helps an organization offset that cost," Marshall said. "People who know about software programming or databases or people who have hands to give to support."
Marshall said there is one place where Arc is seeing steady revenue, the purchases at the Thrift Store.
At the North United Methodist Church clothes closet, Pastor Koelman said that more people who volunteer there are using the closet.
Nonprofits are finding that some of their volunteers also need assistance. Volunteer Julie Weaver said that's something to keep in mind until the economy starts improving.
"We have to take care of each other," Weaver said. "That's not a Pollyanna attitude, that a genuine fact of life.
But a volunteering spirit is hardly new for Minnesotans. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, Minnesota ranks third among the 50 states in volunteerism with about two of every five people contributing some amount of time, The Twin Cities is the top ranked large city for volunteering.
It appears charitable organizations will have to rely more on that spirit in the months ahead.
- All Things Considered, 01/19/2009, 5:23 p.m.