Partners (Number 3, 2007)

Connecting Volunteerism and Community Development

Juan Sanchez According to the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), 27 percent of U.S. adults participate in civic volunteerism. That's over 60 million volunteers giving 8 billion hours each year.

CNCS reports a favorable trend in volunteerism nationally since 1989. At the same time, volunteer rates vary greatly by state. In the Southeast, a smaller portion of the adult population volunteers compared with other parts of the nation. Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi are among the lowest contributors with participation ranging from 21 to 24 percent; in comparison, Minnesota, Nebraska and Utah report rates over 40 percent.

The Southeast also posts fewer per capita volunteer hours than the U.S. average. Alabama is the sole exception, with hours slightly above the national average. Lower volunteerism coupled with higher-than-average poverty rates exacerbates the challenges inherent in community and economic development.

Volunteerism isn't the mission of the Fed's Community Affairs Department. In Community Affairs we emphasize facilitation and technical assistance in promoting affordable housing and economic development, including expertise in finance. We also influence consumer policy related to matters like fair lending and financial education. The overarching goal is to achieve greater economic stability for individuals and communities.

Nevertheless, we fully understand the importance of volunteerism in building sustainable communities. I'm pleased to say that the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, through the leadership of our Volunteer Advisory Committee, has earned a reputation for being a strong civic leader.

The Atlanta Fed's employee volunteer program builds deep, long-term relationships with key community partners. Projects target education and mentoring (for both young people and adults), community development, and health and human services. Many employees also serve on nonprofit boards or support the Bank's Charity Parity nonprofit organization. The United Way is a primary beneficiary of Charity Parity. In addition to direct support, the Bank contributes human capital to the United Way's VIP, Loaned Executive, and Community Investment programs.

To encourage employee volunteerism, the Bank offers a wide range of opportunities over the course of a year and provides flexible work hours whenever possible. The results speak for themselves: Over the past 10 years, the number of Bank-coordinated volunteer projects grew by 400 percent while the number of volunteers quadrupled to 780, even as total employment remained relatively steady. Over the past five years, employee volunteer hours more than doubled—to 2,712 in 2006.

Recently the Metro Atlanta Corporate Volunteer Council named the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta recipient of its IMPACT (Involvement Means People Acting in Communities Together) Award for excellence in integrating volunteerism into the company's business culture and operating an exemplary corporate volunteer program. Considered the most prestigious of its kind, only one IMPACT Award is conferred each year.

I'm proud to be part of an organization that believes in building a culture of giving back to our communities, and I congratulate all of our volunteers for making a strong contribution that helps fill a void in our markets.

Juan C. Sanchez
Community Affairs Officer