CEDAR RAPIDS — Barb Petersen volunteers at The Salvation Army because she likes to keep busy. At least, that’s how it started.
“I retired in 2004 and I needed something to do,” Petersen says. “Then the flood hit and I thought, ‘There it is.’”
She volunteered in the canteen, providing food to those affected by the Floods of 2008. She quickly became someone the organization could rely on, no matter what.
“I’d come in whether I was on the schedule or not,” she says. “It got to be where I was here more than I was at home.”
Peterson, those she works with at The Salvation Army, and others in non-profits and service agencies throughout Eastern Iowa know what recent studies on volunteering confirm — time is money.
Iowans, according to a study released last month by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, falls close to the bottom — 33 out of 50 states — in the amount of money they donate to non-profit organizations.
Time, though, is another story.
In both 2010 and 2011, Iowa was recognized for having the second-highest volunteer rate in the country. According to the Volunteering in America report, 37.9 percent of Iowans helped others in 2010, donating a total of 93.4 million volunteer hours and providing more than $2 billion in services to Iowa.
Take, for example, Petersen. Now, she is employed at the Salvation Army as a kitchen assistant. But, in 2010, she received a Governor’s Volunteer Award recipient for volunteering 780 hours.
“Overall, our staff consists of 800 to 900 volunteers who give 16,000 service hours,” says Mindy Kayser, director of development and communication for The Salvation Army. “We have at least 30, up to 35, volunteers just for the kitchen. If we didn’t have that, just imagine what we’d have to pay.”
At the average national rate of $21.79 an hour — according to Independent Sector, a leadership network for non-profits, foundations, and corporate giving programs — that would save the Salvation Army about $5,000 a week should those 35 kitchen volunteers work at least just one hour a day each.
“We have to have our volunteers,” says Deb Applebee, The Salvation Army volunteer manager. “I don’t know what we’d do without them.”
But is it enough? Iowans have always tended to give more of their time than their money, says Richard Koontz, director of the Larned A. Waterman Iowa Nonprofit Resource Center.
What’s unusual is that “if a state has high volunteer hours, they’re usually high in giving money, too,” Koontz says.
It could be that the numbers are misleading. The figures used in “The Chronicle of Philanthropy” study were derived from income tax filings where people itemize deductions. People who donate money but don’t itemize their 1040s weren’t counted.
At the same time, the study only looked at taxpayers with incomes of $50,000 or more.
Iowa’s median income is $38,000 for individuals, meaning it’s possible some charitable giving wasn’t included in the study.
“I think to really get a good picture, you have to do another survey,” Koontz says. “We’re missing a big piece of the picture.”
One of the Iowa Nonprofit Resource Center’s goals is to find out why the disparity between volunteering and charitable giving exists, and develop ways to encourage Iowans to provide more financial help to the non-profit organizations that play such a significant role in the state’s economy and civic infrastructure.
The center released a study in 2010 showing that charitable non-profit organizations employed nearly 9 percent of Iowa’s workers, who earned 8 percent of the state’s wages. The report also found that non-profit charitable organizations are the fifth largest industry group in the state in terms of number of workers.
“Iowa relies much more heavily on its volunteers than other states in the country,” says Adam Lounsbury, executive director of Volunteer Iowa.
To that end, Gov. Terry Branstad will announce on Monday his hopes to renew Iowa’s giving spirit with a new initiative, “Volunteer Iowa: A Call to Serve.” This public-private partnership will challenge Iowans to give back to their communities, with the goal of helping Iowa become the national leader in service and volunteerism by 2015.