Volunteering in Columbia decreases for first time since 2006

Wednesday, January 15, 2014 | 6:31 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Bucking recent trends, residents volunteered less of their time in 2013 than in the previous six years.

Columbia residents volunteered 43,023 hours in fiscal year 2013, down from 50,302 in 2012, according to the city's Annual Report of Volunteer Activities. 2013 is the first year since 2006 that the number has declined.

"We had six consecutive years of growth that I don’t know is necessarily sustainable," said Neighborhood Services Manager Leigh Britt.

Besides the police department, each of the city's 13 reporting departments noted either decreasing or maintained volunteer hours, according to city records. The police department reported 400 more hours in 2013 than in 2012.

The loss of 7,279 volunteer hours, a 15 percent decline, is a loss of $161,157 worth of volunteer labor, according to city records. The city values one hour of volunteer work at $22.14 as suggested by Independent Sector, a coalition of nonprofits, Britt said.

Each department uses different methods to keep track of its hours. Volunteers at the police department can log their hours through the department's website. Leaders from Cleanup Columbia, a citywide trash pickup, keep track of the number of volunteers and the number of hours each serves. Volunteers can also report any hours by email to a department, though they would have to attribute it to a specific program within the department, Britt said.

The departments then report these hours to Britt.

Many variables contributed to the decreased numbers, including weather, high rate of volunteer turnover and program changes, Britt said.

Weather can affect volunteer turnout at outdoor events such as Cleanup Columbia.

"We usually have 1,500 to 2,000 volunteers, and if the weather is bad for that day then that really hurts our volunteer hours," Britt said.

Changes in opportunities and programs can keep volunteers from continuing their service, Britt said. The city compacted some special events that used to last multiple days into single-day events, which created fewer volunteer opportunities.

High rates of volunteer turnover also requires additional training for each new batch of volunteers, which makes it harder to integrate new people, Britt said.

Supervising editor is Elise Schmelzer.

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