Study places state, Nashville in bottom half of 2009 rankings
By Elizabeth Johnson • THE TENNESSEAN • July 19, 2010
It's the capital of the Volunteer State, but Nashville may not be living up to the nickname.
Nashville ranks 37th among 51 large cities in the percentage of residents who volunteer, according to 2009 numbers from the Corporation for National and Community Service's Volunteering in America report.
Although the number of volunteers rose from 2008 to 2009, the city dropped two spots in the annual rankings as numbers increased heavily across the nation.
"It could be as a result of people being energized by national politics and wanting to get more involved in their community," said Jim Snell, executive director of Volunteer Tennessee. "(It) also could be the result of several large events that have happened, including hurricanes and national disasters, elsewhere in the country and in the world."
Lisa Davis Purcell, director of external affairs for Hands On Nashville, the city's volunteer center, said despite the ranking drop, it was good to see a "huge growth in the number of volunteers."
With almost a third of residents donating time to help their communities during 2009, Nashville ranked above the national average of 26.8 percent, but Snell is not satisfied.
"It's a little bit disappointing that individual cities within Tennessee are kind of at the lower end of the large cities in the country, particularly being cities within the Volunteer State," Snell said.
Tennessee's other large city, Memphis, ranked 35th. Among 75 midsize cities, Chattanooga and Knoxville came in at 42nd and 48th, respectively.
The state, as a whole, moved up six spots to 32nd among all 50 states and Washington, D.C.
Although the ranking is an improvement on recent years, Snell hopes to see a larger increase in the near future.
"As the Volunteer State, we would certainly like to see Tennessee in the top 20 at least, and preferably within the top 10 nationally," Snell said.
With almost 1.4 million volunteers, nearly 30 percent of state residents took part in giving back. Volunteer Tennessee is in the early stages of a three-year plan in which it will launch a media campaign to increase the diversity of volunteers.
Nashvillians ages 25 to 54 volunteer at a higher rate than those across the nation, but the state ranks below the national average in all other age groups.
"We want to encourage people who are young and people who are old and people who may have disabilities to get out into the community and volunteer more," he said.
Like most of the nation, Nashville and Tennessee saw increased numbers in 2005 and 2006, a drop in 2007 and 2008 and now resurgence in 2009.
Snell said one reason could be the recession, which left unemployed residents with more time on their hands.
"People who have been unemployed have been more likely to volunteer than they have in the past. So they're actually giving back even in a time when they themselves are in need," he said. "(Volunteerism) really is becoming more of a practice that people who are unemployed are engaging in while they're looking for work."
Flood brings volunteers
As a result of the May floods, the number of volunteers in Nashville and around the state has risen and should have an impact on the 2010 ranking.
"We want to make sure that those volunteers don't just volunteer for this one event, and that they keep coming back and … really become long-term, committed volunteers," Snell said.
"Once you get volunteers in the door, Tennessee has a much better history of keeping those volunteers than other states around the nation."
Cindy Endsley of Hermitage, who has been volunteering through Hands On Nashville and other organizations since 2003, thinks the flood has brought more awareness about how people can get involved.
"A lot of people don't know where to go to volunteer," said Endsley, 33. "Since the flood, it's a household thing. Going forward they'll know where to volunteer, and I think Nashville will see an increase."
She also hopes new volunteers will come back after seeing the benefits of their work.
"In the past seven years that I've been volunteering, I've grown as a person. I've met so many people. It makes you feel so good about yourself," she said.
"And then, you've got a bonus — you're volunteering and helping the community."