Volume 35, Issue 1, 2016

Saving the World (For Free)

By Andrew Walker

In his 2000 book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam discusses the ways in which Americans have disengaged from public involvement since 1950 with the rise of television, the Internet and other societal trends. He cites statistics showing steady declines in voter turnout, public meeting attendance, and membership in the PTA and other civic and fraternal organizations.

Putnam’s thesis continues to spark public debate and counter argument. Some sociologists have argued that, although many traditional 20th century institutions are in long-term decline, new forms of civic involvement have been taking their place—enter the soccer mom, neighborhood associations and book clubs.

Volunteerism has not been immune from these trends; fewer adults volunteer for the Boy Scouts and other traditional groups. In 2013, the volunteer rate was 25.4 percent, or 62.6 million people, compared with 29 percent of the population in 2003, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But there is good news: Volunteering is alive and well in the millennial generation. People under the age of 30 report in poll after poll that volunteering is an important civic duty they take seriously. And statistics bear this out: 20 percent of twenty-somethings volunteered in 2013, up from 14 percent in 1989. And millennials are likely to volunteer even more as they get older.

This is welcome news to nonprofit organizations. At BCI, volunteers save us hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in staff costs we couldn’t otherwise afford to pay. From our Board of Directors on down, volunteers are integral to almost everything BCI does. It’s doubtful we would have protected the 1,520-acre Galo tract at Bracken Cave last year, had it not been for our volunteer leadership. And we see the same strong commitment from young people outside the United States.

This issue of Bats magazine profiles a few of these people. As someone who also began his career as a conservation volunteer, I have deep appreciation for the commitment, energy, enthusiasm and talent that each volunteer brings. It enriches us all and advances our mission to protect the world’s bats. To every volunteer, thank you!

Andrew Walker

BCI Executive Director

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