Might the Volunteerism Trend Hinder the Recovery?

Last Updated Jul 29, 2009 1:42 PM EDT

A newly released study shows that despite the recession, one million additional Americans joined the volunteer ranks in 2008, when compared to 2007's numbers. Overall, 26.4 percent of Americans, or 61.8 million people, donated approximately 8 billion hours of service, worth an estimated $162 billion to the country's nonprofits.

Many folks are driven simply by the desire to help out in a time of crisis. Others figure they might as well lend a hand now that they are out of work and have extra time. But some are volunteering specifically to beef up their resumes and learn new skills as they struggle to find work again.

Of course, it's a good thing when people help out from time to time in their communities. But I could see how the volunteerism trend might actually hurt the economy if people settle for "experience" rather than money and employers, whether they are soup kitchens or companies looking to take advantage of unpaid interns, can expect more people to work for free.
An organization might "make a difference" through the services it provides. But it also helps the economy by paying wages. At what point is the volunteer or unpaid intern fulfilling the duties of an employee that should be paid? Please join the discussion below.

  • Stefan Deeran

    Stefan Deeran helps environmental nonprofits and green businesses develop and execute their new media campaigns. He also publishes The Exception magazine, a nonpartisan news platform serving his home state of Maine. You can follow him on Twitter @RStefanDeeran or via Facebook.