A groundbreaking new report from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) provides the most compelling empirical evidence to date establishing an association between volunteering and employment.
The study, “Volunteering as a Pathway to Employment: Does Volunteering Increase Odds of Finding a Job for the Out of Work?” finds that unemployed individuals who volunteer over the next year have 27 percent higher odds of being employed at the end of the year than non volunteers. The relationship between volunteering and employment holds stable regardless of a person’s gender, age, ethnicity, geographical area, or job market conditions.
“Many of us in the volunteer sector have long felt volunteering gives a boost to those looking for work, but we’ve never had solid research to back it up,” said Wendy Spencer, CEO of CNCS. “This report shows a definitive relationship – volunteers are more likely to be employed a year later than non-volunteers. We know that volunteering can help job seekers develop skills and expand professional contacts, creating a positive impression that can make a big difference in a competitive job market.”
The federal agency used 10 years of data from the Census Bureau and analyzed a nationally representative sample of more than 70,000 individuals 16 years or older who were looking for work. The report examines their volunteer and employment status over two years to determine whether there was a relationship between volunteering and securing a job.
The report’s finding of a 27 percent increase in odds of employment was statistically significant. The association between volunteering and employment remained consistent across each year of the study period and varying unemployment rates, suggesting that volunteering may provide an advantage regardless of economic conditions. Importantly, the relationship was strongest among individuals without a high school diploma (51 percent increase in odds) and individuals who live in rural areas (55 percent increase in odds).
“This research suggests that people with limited skills or social connections – particularly those without a high school education – may see an extra benefit to volunteering as a way to open doors and level the playing field,” said Dr. Christopher Spera, director of evaluation and research at CNCS.
Prior research has shown that volunteering can increase a person’s social connections and professional contacts (social capital) and skills and experiences (human capital), two factors that are positively related to employment outcomes. In addition, some workers may see volunteering as a possible entry route into a new field or organization where they would like to work.
Promoting volunteer service as a pathway for employment and opportunity has been a priority of CNCS. The agency provides vital leadership and support to America’s voluntary sector through its AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, Volunteer Generation Fund, and other programs. Last year, the agency engaged more than five million Americans in service to meet local needs and built the capacity of thousands of nonprofits to more effectively recruit and manage volunteers.
The connection between volunteering and employment has also been promoted by the Department of Labor, which issued policy guidance last year recognizing that volunteering can help expand opportunity for unemployed individuals by enabling them to develop and maintain skills, expand their network of contacts, and enhance their resumes. The guidance encouraged state workforce agencies to promote volunteering by individuals receiving unemployment compensation.
“This research has far-reaching implications for the volunteer sector, for workforce agencies, for policymakers, and for those who are out of work,” Spencer said. “We encourage nonprofits across the country to engage out-of-work Americans as volunteers, and to help them develop skills and contacts and take on leadership roles. For those who are out of work, consider volunteering as one part of your job search strategy. Visit Serve.gov to find volunteer opportunities in your area.”
The Corporation for National and Community Service is a federal agency that engages more than five million Americans in service through its AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, Social Innovation Fund, and Volunteer Generation Fund programs, and leads the President's national call to service initiative, United We Serve. For more information, visit NationalService.gov.