How MLK Day Affects Volunteerism

MLK dayEvery January, after the bustle of the holidays subsides, a day comes along that spurs people to donate their time in service to their local community on MLK Day.

On the third Monday in January, Americans honor the memory of civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by participating in a nationwide day of service. During this 24-hour period, hundreds of thousands of people “of every age and background celebrate Dr. King through service projects that strengthen communities, empower individuals, bridge barriers, and create solutions.”

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, the number of people volunteering throughout the year has steadily increased over the past five years. In its 2012 Volunteering and Civic Life report, the CNCS stated that 64.3 million Americans donated a combined 7.9 billion hours of service at formal organizations in 2012 (a value of $171 billion).

While the national volunteerism rate has increased by 0.5 percent, some question whether or not one-day service initiatives are helping or harming the volunteer bases of the nonprofit organizations people flock to on January 21.

The Appeal of One-Day Volunteer Projects

Some volunteer experts claim that whether the organization sees sustained commitment from volunteers or just a face for a day, these one-day service initiatives are what many US volunteers crave and nonprofits should pursue more of them.

Often called “microvolunteering,” many experts believe this new volunteer trend is spurred in part by society’s on-the-go attitude and increasingly short attention span. Susan Ellis, a volunteerism specialist from Energize, Inc., says that this, coupled with the public perception of volunteering “as an endless time suck,” makes days such as MLK Day much more appealing to potential volunteers than a year long commitment to an organization.

But why this shift to one-and-done days of service? After all, if volunteerism rates are increasing in the US, service days can’t be the only type of volunteer activity citizens choose to participate in. For many, the appeal lies in a concrete sense of accomplishment, since most service projects given to volunteers are tailored to a one-day period.

This satisfaction can often lead volunteers back to pursue additional days of service, turning that face for a day into a serial short-term or microvolunteer, says Ellis. Whatever the type of assignment, be it one day or one hour for every day of the year, volunteers crave a position that challenges them.

Organizations across the country announced service projects for MLK Day 2013. Many of them were designed to appeal to microvolunteers looking to participate in 12-hour volunteer projects, but many are hoping that these one-day participants will do just what Ellis predicts, and begin a lasting commitment to a local cause.

To learn more about projects designed specifically for MLK Day, or to begin volunteering in your community, visit the Corporation for National and Community Service by clicking here.

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Christine Adkins

Christine obtained her degrees in public relations, journalism, leadership & global understanding from La Salle University. She is currently completing a year of service with AmeriCorps VISTA in Baltimore, MD and ultimately desires to pursue a career in public relations in the tourism, wine, or nonprofit industries.

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