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As nation sees steady decline in volunteerism, nonprofits offer remote volunteer opportunities

The Greater Twin Cities United Way is offering "Volunteer from Home" opportunities, in addition to in-person options.

MINNEAPOLIS — Overall, Minnesotans love to help. According to data released by Americorps and the U.S. Census Bureau, Minnesota has the third-highest rate of volunteerism in the country, behind only Utah and Wyoming. 

But as the nation is seeing a downward trend in volunteering, Minnesota is no exception. There's been a steady decline. 

According to the Americorps report, in 2017, 45.1% of Minnesotans volunteered with a formal organization. In 2019, it dropped to 40.1%. And in 2021, during the pandemic, the rate fell even more, to 35.5%.

It's not hitting everywhere, though. The Greater Twin Cities United Way says they haven't seen a noticeable difference, and in some areas, they even are seeing more volunteers. 

Their main programs are the following: "Action Day" in the summer, where volunteers pack more than 40,000 backpacks for K-12 students going back to school; "Home for Good" in the fall, where volunteers pack kits for families exiting homelessness and entering permanent housing; and "Flavors of Our Community," a spring event where volunteers distribute diverse cultural foods to food pantries so families of all backgrounds have culturally relevant foods.

"Pre-COVID, those were big, in-person events where everybody would come together for a large volunteer event," John Wilgers, CEO of Greater Twin Cities United Way said. "Obviously when we got to COVID, those types of events weren't feasible."

United Way, like many organizations, had to get creative, eventually finding a way that people could pitch in remotely.

"We started having a significant volunteer at home element to these events," Wilgers explained. "People can look and see what goes into a backpack, they can shop for back to school supplies, pack it together, drop it off at a location. And really do it all in the flexibility and safety of their own home."

They also helped their company partners host their own volunteer events, just on a smaller scale. They have since brought back the large events. In the meantime, the organization learned an important lesson.

"One of the things we realized was that people liked volunteering at home," Wilgers said. "They liked some of the company-specific events, so post-COVID, we have kept those as elements of all of our volunteers."

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