Bloomington above average in volunteerism, surveys show

By Dann Denny 331-4350 |
April 9, 2012

The statistics don’t lie. Bloomington is a volunteering community.

More people in Bloomington volunteer per capita than both Indiana and national averages, according to a recent Corporation for National and Community survey — which found that the average volunteer rate in Bloomington is 34 percent, compared with 28 percent for Indiana and 26 percent for the country.

Want more proof? How about the 2010 Volunteering in America Report, which shows that Bloomington residents volunteered 50 hours per resident in 2010, while the per-person average was 37 hours in Indiana and 34 hours in the U.S.

Still skeptical? Well, the 81 local organizations that responded to the City of Bloomington Volunteer Network’s 2011 survey reported a total of 437,885 volunteer hours logged locally.

Using Independent Sector’s estimate of the dollar value of volunteer time, Bloomington volunteers at those reporting agencies provided services valued at more than $7.5 million.

“The statistics are completely believable,” said Bet Savich, director of the City of Bloomington Volunteer Network. “I’ve always felt that people volunteer here more than in other communities, so I’m not surprised by this data.”

Savich said part of the explanation lies in the fact that Bloomington has a massive volunteer pool of college students at Indiana University and Ivy Tech Community College.

She cited the IU Kelley School of Business’s student-run Civic Leadership Development program and SPEA’s Students Taking Active Roles Today program, which encourage students to get involved in volunteerism.

“These programs give nonprofits what they need in terms of volunteers, but also help students learn a service ethic and become leaders in service,” she said. “IU also has the Adopt a Nonprofit Program, in which residence halls are matched to a community nonprofit.”

The National Survey of Student Engagement found that 70 percent of IU seniors reported they volunteered during their college career. According to a 2010 survey of local nonprofits released by the federal Corporation for National and Community Service, 83 percent of the respondents said they considered IU student volunteers either essential, very important or important to their operational success.

Ivy Tech’s staff, faculty and students reported 18,000 volunteer hours at more than 80 organizations and agencies across its six-county service area last year, and the campus was named for five consecutive years to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. Savich said Ivy Tech students do volunteer work on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, help fix used appliances at Habitat ReStore, and take part in Ivy Tech’s O’Bannon Institute for Community Service, a three-day event that includes an award ceremony honoring students, faculty and staff for civic engagement, a fundraising dinner with a speaker who talks about civic engagement and political participation, and a day of panel discussions.

Community members, too

But Savich said that even if you removed college students from Bloomington’s landscape, the city would still have a strong spirit of volunteerism.

“This is a caring, grass-roots community,” she said. “Once it learns that something needs to be done, community members get in there and do it. Bloomington has a lot of people who’ve traveled and seen what other communities have done in terms of arts or social services or animal welfare, and they’re not afraid to get their hands dirty and get something started here.”

But why are Bloomingtonians so generous with their spare time? The Corporation for National and Community Service’s survey found that high volunteer rates correlated with high education levels, short commute times and a robust nonprofit infrastructure — all of which can be found in Bloomington.

“Our nonprofits would not be able to do what they do without volunteers,” Savich said. “It’s not just the hours that the volunteers provide. It’s also the skills they bring, and the heart and effort they put into it.”

Volunteers still needed

Savich said the Bloomington Volunteer Network, which has 225 member agencies, connects people with nonprofits and volunteer opportunities in the community. It posts volunteer opportunities on its website,, which gets more than 2,000 unique visitors per month.

“We still need more volunteers,” Savich said. “There are more than 200 volunteer positions open at any given time. Every week, we put out a newsletter in which we identify five current volunteer needs. The need is always greater when the IU students are gone.”

Savich said many people mistakenly believe if they volunteer, they have to make a weekly or monthly commitment to a nonprofit.

“If you are a snowbird or like to leave town regularly, nonprofits will work with you,” she said. “We’re a very mobile community, and nonprofits completely understand that.”

In this photo from January, Myles Adams, a Bloomington High School North Habitat for Humanity volunteer, helps build roof trusses for a shed at a Habitat house on Thornton Drive in Bloomington. David Snodgress | Herald-Times

Copyright: 2012

About Ivy Tech Community College

Ivy Tech Community College is Indiana's largest public postsecondary institution and the nation's largest singly accredited statewide community college system, accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Ivy Tech has campuses throughout Indiana and also serves thousands of students annually online. It serves as the state's engine of workforce development, offering associate degrees, long- and short-term certificate programs, industry certifications, and training that aligns with the needs of the community. The College provides a seamless transfer to other colleges and universities in Indiana, as well as out of state, for a more affordable route to a bachelor's degree.