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    What America Thinks
    Don't Waste the Volunteers' Time

    By Richard Morin
    Washington Post Polling Director
    Monday, May 18, 1998

    We're a nation of volunteers, according to the polls. But a new survey of veteran volunteers suggests that Americans would spend even more time doing volunteer work if organizations would make better use of their time. The national survey found complaints of wasted time and poor management were frequently mentioned by former volunteers as the reason they quit. Four in 10 of all poll respondents said they would be more likely to volunteer or spend more time doing charity work for organizations that were well managed and made good use of their time.

    Among those who had volunteered sometime in their adult life, 40 percent said they had stopped volunteering at some time because the organization with which they worked made poor use of their time, poll analysts reported in a summary that accompanied the release of the survey, which was conducted by Bruskin/Goldring Research in February and sponsored by The UPS Foundation. These complaints of poor management and misuse ranked second to "time pressures," which were named by 65 percent as a reason they stopped volunteering. Only one in 10 onetime volunteers said they stopped "because they were not thanked."

    "Managing volunteers effectively has become increasingly important for organizations, and has never really been addressed in a significant way," says Gary Lee, executive director of the UPS Foundation, which pledged $400,000 over two years to five volunteer organizations "to increase model programs that ultimately will be replicated on a national scale. The net result will be more volunteers who give more time."

    The poll results suggest that nearly six in 10 adult Americans currently do some form of volunteer work, including one in 10 who spend sixteen or more hours working in community, church or civic activities. Another one in five who were not doing volunteer work said they have sometime in their adult lives, while one in four have never volunteered.

    Half of those interviewed – 53 percent – said being a volunteer in America is more important "today [than] it was five years ago," while just one in 10 said it was less important. Two in five – 38 percent – said they would like to do more volunteer work.

    But only one in five reported a recent increase in the amount of time they spent as a volunteer, while slightly more – 33 percent – said they're spending less.

    "Public opinion of the general needs of the country are not easily translated into public participation in personally addressing those needs," analysts wrote. "To go ahead and actually volunteer more time presents a greater challenge." The survey of 1,030 randomly selected adults were interviewed in February for this survey.

    What Good Times?
    Perhaps Americans have been literally struck dumb by all the good news about the soaring economy and falling crime.

    That's the only way to explain the results of a new national survey that found that only 17 percent of all Americans believe that violent crime is decreasing, while 69 percent report that violent crime is increasing "and 44 percent believe it is increasing a lot," writes Humphrey Taylor, chairman of Louis Harris & Associates, which conducted the April survey of 1,011 randomly selected adults. More Americans were aware that the economy's going gangbusters: Half – 53 percent – know the economy is expanding. But only one in eight were aware that several million new jobs are being created each year.

    "This level of ignorance and misinformation is stunning," Taylor says. "It cannot be attributed to apathy; we know that the public cares a great deal about crime, the economy and jobs. Presumably it must, in large measure, be a result of the media's coverage of crime stories and bad economic news."

    "The temptation to shout, 'wake up America' is irresistible."

    Paying for Retirement
    Americans are far more likely than residents of five European countries to believe that individuals were mainly responsible for saving enough money to meet retirement expenses and not rely on government help, according to a series of surveys in the United State and in Europe.

    About six in 10 Americans – 59 percent – agreed that "people like me should feel entirely responsible" for "saving enough money to meet at least basic expenses in retirement." Another 30 percent said individuals should "expect the government to help."

    Europeans were divided: 42 percent said saving for retirement expenses was the individual's responsibility, while 45 percent said it was up to the government. Surveys of about 1,000 randomly selected respondents were conducted last fall in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Spain under the direction of Princeton Survey Research, which coordinated the surveys for the Americans Discuss Social Security project of the Pew Charitable Trusts.

    Richard Morin is director of polling for The Washington Post. "What Americans Think" appears Mondays in The Washington Post National Weekly Edition. Morin can be reached at

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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