“Volunteer Introspective - A Survey of Former Volunteers of the Catholic Volunteer Network” Released at CVN National Conference

By Jim Lindsay, Executive Director

Volunteer Introspective – A Survey of Former Volunteers of the Catholic Volunteer Network,” is a national survey commissioned by Catholic Volunteer Network (CVN) with the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University. The survey looked at more than 5,000 men and women in CVN member organizations. Full survey results were released on Friday, November 8, 2013 at the Catholic Volunteer Network’s annual conference in Silver Spring, MD, which also served as a celebration of our 50th anniversary.  

The survey was distributed online earlier this year to former volunteers of Catholic Volunteer Network member organizations around the globe. Survey respondents provided demographic and background information and answered questions related to their experience with their volunteer program and lives following their volunteer service. The survey compared these results with the national averages, where applicable.

CVN decided to create and publish this research as a means to celebrate the work of so many CVN members and their volunteers over the last 50 years.  While we are fully focused on the future, we wanted to benefit from 50 years of volunteer experience – and learn from this extraordinary living archive. The survey was designed to measure how volunteer service affected volunteers in their “after-life,” how volunteers remembered their service year and how volunteering remained incorporated in both their professional and personal lives many years later.

Because the survey was detailed, we learned a lot – both about volunteers’ typical educational level post-service, how religion continued to play a role in their lives and even how their marriage statistics defied national norms. (Fewer volunteers than most Americans divorced).

Participation in the study went well beyond our most optimistic projections with nearly 30 percent of 18,515 persons who were sent the survey responding. We believe that this investigation reinforces the importance of faith-based volunteering – and reflects the substantial positive impact that such volunteering has on every individual who participated.

We expect to use the study and to make its results available publicly so as to foster renewed interest in faith-based volunteering and to inspire and excite future generations of volunteers across America. We encourage our members and partners to disseminate these findings broadly so as to raise the visibility of faith-based service to new heights!

Here are some key highlights of the study:

Executive Summary

In summer 2012, the Catholic Volunteer Network (CVN) commissioned the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University to conduct a survey of former volunteers (alumni) of CVN membership organizations. The central purpose of this research was to help CVN and its members to understand and document the transformative effect of the volunteer experience on the career choices, civic involvement, spiritual growth and human development of these alumni. Between February 2013 and June 2013, CARA distributed a link to an online survey to a total of 18,515 men and women identified by CVN membership organizations as alumni of their programs. A total of 5,051 men and women (or 27 percent of those who had been sent the survey) completed the questionnaire, making it one of the largest recent surveys of former volunteers. This report also includes, where possible, comparisons to national data.

Major Findings

Characteristics of Respondents

- More than seven in ten respondents (72 percent) are female and the average age of respondents is 37.

- More than four in ten respondents (44 percent) are members of the Post-Vatican II Generation (born between 1961 and 1981), which is more than the national average for adult Catholics (36 percent) and U.S. adults (33 percent). Four in ten respondents (41 percent) belong to the Millennial Generation (born in 1982 or later), almost three times the proportion in the national adult Catholic population (15 percent) and almost twice the proportion of U.S. adults (23 percent).

- Responding alumni volunteers are less racially diverse than the U.S. adult population. More than nine in ten respondents (93 percent) say their primary racial identity is white, compared to seven in ten (72 percent) of the U.S. adult population.

- Almost two-thirds of respondents (64 percent) have been working full-time over the past month and about one in ten respondents (11 percent) have been working part-time. Furthermore, nearly two in three respondents (64 percent) say they had not been employed full-time prior to their volunteer service.

- More than a third of U.S. households (35 percent) report an annual household income of less than $35,000, compared to only 23 percent of former volunteers who report that level of household income.

- More than two-thirds of former volunteers (67 percent) say their volunteer service was either “somewhat” or “very” important in influencing their choice of career. This has added importance as only one-third of former volunteers had been full-time employed before their volunteer service.

- Almost half of former volunteers (47 percent) say they are married, which is similar to the proportion of the U.S. population that are married (48 percent). However, more than two in five former volunteers (42 percent) say they have never been married. This can be compared to the one-third of the U.S. adult population (33 percent) who report having never married.

- Excluding respondents who say they have never been married, just under one in ten (9 percent) have ever divorced. This is much lower than the corresponding proportion of the U.S. population (31 percent).

- Almost six in ten responding former volunteers (57 percent) have a Master’s degree or higher. Former volunteers are, in general, more highly educated than the general U.S. adult population. For example, only 3 percent of former volunteers do not have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 71 percent of the U.S. population.

- About four in ten respondents (44 percent) went to a Catholic elementary school and a similar proportion (43 percent) went to a Catholic high school. Six in ten (58 percent) went to a Catholic college.

Faith Background of Respondents

- About four in five respondents (83 percent) were raised Catholic. Similarly, four in five respondents (81 percent) say that their religious preference during their volunteer service was Catholic whereas fewer than seven in ten respondents (67 percent) say they are Catholic today.

- Reported weekly attendance at religious services among former volunteers declines from 77 percent during high school to 56 percent during college and 46 percent today. In comparison, 27 percent of the U.S. population say they currently attend a religious service at least weekly.

- Respondents were asked about their involvement with church-based or faith-based youth groups in high school, their involvement with campus ministry while in college, and their involvement with a local parish or religious congregation today. In general, participation rates in such faith groups remain stable over these life phases (55 percent, 56 percent and 58 percent, respectively).

- Six percent of former volunteers have a vocation to ordained ministry or religious life today. However, more than one third of respondents (37 percent) have considered a vocation to ordained ministry or religious life, which is much higher than the proportion among Catholic adults who have considered these vocations.

- Former volunteers are more likely than the U.S. population in general to report praying several times a day (33 percent, compared to 27 percent). By comparison, former volunteers are less likely to report praying once a day (21 percent compared to 29 percent in the U.S. population).

Characteristics of Volunteer Program

- Two-thirds of respondents (65 percent) ended their volunteer service in 2000 or later (Recent Volunteers) and one-third of respondents (35 percent) ended their service in 1999 or earlier (Early Volunteers).

- Four out of five responding former volunteers (80 percent) say that their volunteer program was based in the United States.

- Almost all respondents (94 percent) say that their service was long-term, lasting nine months or more and, on average former volunteers lived with approximately six volunteers/missioners while serving in their program.

- Just over three quarters of respondents (77 percent) say that they had a regular, structured reflection or prayer time while serving in their program and of those respondents who say that there was a regular, structured reflection or prayer time as part of their volunteer service, 1 percent says that this time was solely individual prayer time.

- More than nine in ten respondents (91 percent) say that their program provided a stipend and almost as many (89 percent) say they were provided with room and board.

- More than four in ten former volunteers (43 percent) say that they primarily served adults and almost half of respondents (47 percent) say that their placement was in education.

Experiences with Volunteer Program

- Of responding former volunteers who were given an AmeriCorps Education Award, one in five (21 percent) say that the award was “very” important in their decision to serve with their program and more than one-quarter of respondents say that the award was “somewhat” important in their decision.

- Respondents are most likely to say they first learned about their volunteer program through friends or through a college campus ministry. More than one third of respondents (35 percent) say that they learned about their program through friends and three in ten (31 percent) say it was through a college campus ministry.

- When asked about the importance of certain items in their decision to enter their volunteer program, almost all responding former volunteers said that the fact that they “felt compassion towards people in need” was “somewhat” or “very” important (84 percent said “very”).

- Almost three in ten respondents (28 percent) said they are “very” likely to consider another full-time volunteer program after retirement, while only 3 percent of respondents say they are “very” likely to consider another full-time volunteer program in the next 12 months.

- Almost all responding former volunteers “somewhat” or “strongly” agree that their volunteer service made them a better person (98 percent), that they enjoyed their volunteer service (97 percent), and that their volunteer program helped them become who they are today (97 percent) (82 percent, 79 percent, and 79 percent respectively “strongly” agree).

- More than four in ten responding former volunteers (41 percent) say they are regularly in contact with fellow volunteers.

Current Volunteer Activity and Charitable Giving

- More than eight in ten responding former volunteers (82 percent) say that they have volunteered time, donated money or property, or both in the past 12 months.

- Half of respondents who have volunteered in the past 12 months (49 percent) have done so for their parish or congregation. Almost as many respondents (47 percent) report volunteering for education organizations.

- Almost two thirds of responding former volunteers who say that they have contributed money or property in the past 12 months (64 percent) say they contributed to their parish or religious congregation.

- The average total amount given by former volunteers who report giving at least some amount of money in the past 12 months is $2,098, and half gave $760 or more.

- Almost all respondents (98 percent) say that their compassion toward people in need was either “somewhat” important or “very” important in driving their decision to volunteer time or contribute money or property in the past 12 months. Almost four in five respondents (78 percent) said that their compassion toward people in need was “very” important in driving their decision.

- Almost nine in ten former volunteers (88 percent) say their volunteer program was at least “a little” important in their decision to volunteer time or contribute money or property.

- Of those who say they have not volunteered in the past 12 months, almost three in five respondents (57 percent) say they have not volunteered because they do not have the time and only one in eight respondents (13 percent) still volunteer with the program they served in.

Faith-Based and Civic Engagement

- One in four former volunteers (25 percent) participates in church or faith-based Sunday school, church school, or religious school.

- More than three in five former volunteers (61 percent) think of themselves as Democrat and more than seven in ten former volunteers (72 percent) identify as liberal.

- In the 2012 election, more than two in five former volunteers (44 percent) spoke to people and showed them why to vote for one of the candidates. In addition, almost three in ten respondents (29 percent) gave money to a political party or an individual candidate running for public office during the election year.

- More than nine in ten respondents (95 percent) agree with the political issue of more government funds to provide health care for poor children.

- Two percent of all respondents have ever run for public office.

- Almost all respondents (97 percent) say, when considering their lives in general these days, they are either “fairly” happy, or “very” happy.

- More than nine in ten former volunteers (96 percent) say that social justice is an important value in their life.

Click here to read the full report.