FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Organizations across the United States are having difficulty finding people to volunteer for them.
This issue is not new. In fact, volunteerism has seen a steady decline for the past few decades. A survey from the U.S. Census Bureau and Americorps found in 2021 that 23.2% of Americans volunteered for an organization, a 7% drop from 2019.
Some non-profit organizations in Fort Wayne are seeing this trend happen where they are. Kenyon Sivels, a corps officer for the Salvation Army in Fort Wayne, said they are dealing with a decline in people volunteering for them throughout the year.
“I think when everything shut down during the pandemic, it gave people the chance to look around and see what other organizations are in the community,” Sivels said. “It allowed them to invest time in other areas of volunteer work.”
Many of the volunteers at the Salvation Army are more active with the organization during the holiday season than in any other parts of the year.
Holidays like Christmas and Easter attracts many volunteers to the Salvation Army. Sivels said he hopes more people will want to volunteer for them during other parts of the year.
Another challenge of recruiting volunteers is that some organizations have certain requirements for people to be with them. During the holidays, the Salvation Army doesn’t allow children to be by themselves while volunteering for them.
“For people who stand by the kettles ringing the bell during the holidays, that can be anyone” he said.
There are different things volunteers can do for the organization throughout the year including working in the food pantry distributing food to needy families or its Tools for School program where volunteers fill backpacks with school supplies and distribute them to community partners.
He emphasized the Salvation Army’s ongoing efforts to get its message and mission out to the public.
“Our biggest hurdle is most people only know about us during the holidays and that they don’t really think about us during other parts of the year,” he said. “We do tours for people to show them around and what our mission is. People can always call us if they are interested in volunteering for us.”
Another non-profit struggling to find volunteers is NeighborLink, who has volunteers go out and help people in the community who are in need with things like yard work or snow removal.
Eric Wood, NeighborLink’s Executive Director, said he is quite aware of the decline of volunteerism and he hopes to address the need by reclaiming the idea of being human rather than just people volunteering once and they’re done.
“I think the pandemic revealed this a lot. People siloed and became more individually focused,” Wood said.
NeighborLink has gone across Fort Wayne and hosting events such as neighbor week, to bring attention to what they do. He said there hasn’t been much turnout at many of its events and they also do videography and social media campaigns to promote themselves and recruit new volunteers.
“We’ve got to be willing to bring people with us and see and serve people on a regular basis,” he added. “Hosting events may show and highlight us, but what about the longer term.”
The organization has worked with students at the Amp Lab at Electric Works to go door-to-door talking to people in the surrounding neighborhoods about NeighborLink and what they offer.
The decline of volunteerism can be pointed to a larger issues in society which is the decline of doing things collectively and an emphasis more on individualism.
Wood believes our society has gone from physical interactions to digital interactions through media and what we often see is people crying out for wanting a sense of community.
“I think there is a disconnect with people in our neighborhoods. The idea of loving your community and knowing your neighbors has transformed into expressing your thoughts online,” he said.
To help people in communities get to interact with each other, NeighborLink will host block parties to help neighbors get to know each other.
“We hosted one block party where the neighbors on the street haven’t been together at once in 25 years. We’re so polarized and isolated by different ideas, we’ve given up collective responsibility and instead have gone to pastors and politicians to solve our problems,” he said. “People can participate in our Camp NeighborLink program where people can serve their community and recruit people to our organization by going to churches and businesses.”