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Economic News Release
CPS CPS Program Links

Volunteering in the United States, 2010 Technical Note

Technical Note

   The data in this release were collected through a supplement to the September 2010
Current Population Survey (CPS).  The CPS--a monthly survey of about 60,000 house-
holds conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics--focuses
on obtaining information on employment and unemployment among the nation's civilian
noninstitutional population age 16 and over.  The purpose of this supplement to the
CPS was to obtain information on the incidence of volunteering and the characteris-
tics of volunteers in the United States.

   Information in this release will be made available to sensory-impaired individuals
upon request.  Voice phone: (202) 691-5200; Federal Relay Service: (800) 877-8339.

Reliability of the estimates

   Statistics based on the CPS are subject to both sampling and nonsampling error.
When a sample, rather than the entire population, is surveyed, there is a chance
that the sample estimates may differ from the "true" population values they repre-
sent.  The exact difference, or sampling error, varies depending on the particular
sample selected, and this variability is measured by the standard error of the es-
timate.  There is about a 90-percent chance, or level of confidence, that an esti-
mate based on a sample will differ by no more than 1.6 standard errors from the
"true" population value because of sampling error.  BLS analyses are generally con-
ducted at the 90-percent level of confidence.

   The CPS data also are affected by nonsampling error.  Nonsampling error can occur
for many reasons, including the failure to sample a segment of the population, in-
ability to obtain information for all respondents in the sample, inability or unwil-
lingness of respondents to provide correct information, and errors made in the col-
lection or processing of the data.

   A full discussion of the reliability of data from the CPS and for information
on estimating standard errors is available on the BLS Web Site at

   The Census Bureau introduces adjustments to the population controls for the CPS as
part of its annual update of population estimates.  For this reason, the data for 2010
presented in this release are not strictly comparable with data for 2009 and earlier
years.  Additional information is available on the internet at

Volunteer questions and concepts

   In the September 2010 supplement, questions on volunteer activities were asked of
all households.  Efforts were made to have household members answer the volunteer
questions for themselves.  (Generally, one member of the household answers all the
questions in the CPS on behalf of the entire household.)  Self-response was consid-
ered important for the volunteer supplement because research indicated that self-re-
spondents could more easily answer questions on the characteristics of the volunteer
activity.  About 67 percent of the responses were self-reports.

   The survey was introduced as follows:  "This month, we are interested in volunteer
activities, that is, activities for which people are not paid, except perhaps expenses.
We only want you to include volunteer activities that you did through or for an organ-
ization, even if you only did them once in a while."

   Following this introduction, respondents were asked the first supplement question:
"Since September 1st of last year, have you done any volunteer activities through or
for an organization?"

   If respondents did not answer "yes" to the first question, they were asked the fol-
lowing question: "Sometimes people don't think of activities they do infrequently or 
activities they do for children's schools or youth organizations as volunteer activi-
ties. Since September 1st of last year, have you done any of these types of volunteer

   Respondents were considered volunteers if they answered "yes" to either of these
questions. This is the same method of identifying volunteers as was used in each of
the eight prior supplements.

   Respondents classified as volunteers were asked further questions about the number
and type of organizations for which they volunteered, total hours spent volunteering,
how they became involved with the main organization for which they volunteered, the
type of activities they performed for the main organization, and what their main acti-
vity was.

   The reference period for the questions on volunteering was about 1 year, from
September 1, 2009, through the survey week in September 2010.  The reference period
for other characteristics--such as labor force status, educational attainment, and
marital status--refer to the survey reference week in September 2010.  It is possi-
ble that these characteristics were different at the time volunteer activities were

   One new question was added to the 2008 survey to determine whether or not respon-
dents had donated money, assets, or property with a combined value of more than $25
to charitable or religious organizations in the past 12 months.  Two questions asked
in the 2007 supplement were removed in 2008.  These questions asked how often respon-
dents who had attended public meetings or who had worked with others in their neigh-
borhood to fix a problem did so.


   Volunteers are persons who performed unpaid volunteer activities at any point from
September 1, 2009, through the survey period in September 2010.  The count of volun-
teers only includes persons who volunteered through or for an organization; the figures
do not include persons who volunteered in a more informal manner.  For example, a woman
who taught acting to children through a local theater would be considered a volunteer.
However, a woman who, on her own, organized softball games for the children in her
neighborhood would not be counted as a volunteer for the purpose of this survey.

   Organizations are associations, societies, or groups of people who share a common
interest.  Examples include churches, youth groups, and civic organizations.  For the
purpose of this study, organizations are grouped into eight major categories, including
religious, youth, and social or community service organizations.

   In the 2005 survey, one organization category, immigrant/refugee assistance, was ad-
ded to the questionnaire as a possible response. Responses that were collected in this
category may have been distributed over at least six of the major organization catego-
ries in previous years.  For this reason, the addition of the new response category
created a break in the comparability of organizations between 2005 and prior years.
Because few people reported volunteering for immigrant/refugee assistance organizations
and because the group was not a definite subset of any of the major organization cate-
gories, those persons who did report that they volunteered for immigrant/refugee assis-
tance organizations were placed in the "other" group.

   The main organization is the organization for which the volunteer worked the most
hours during the year.  If a respondent volunteered for only one organization, it was
considered the main organization, even if exact hours were not obtained.

   In order to identify the type of main organization, respondents provided information
about the organization and, for those who volunteered for more than one organization,
annual hours worked for each.  Some respondents did not provide the information neces-
sary to determine the main organization.  For these respondents, the follow-up questions
on activities and how they became involved with the main organization asked them to re-
port on the organization for which they think they spent the most time volunteering.

   Activities are the specific tasks the volunteer did for an organization.  Examples
include tutoring, fundraising, and serving food.  The activity categories were modified
in 2005, thus creating a break in the comparability of activities between 2005 and prior

   In 2006, a new question was added that asked respondents on which of the activities
they mentioned they spent the most time. Previously, respondents reported all of the
activities they did for their main organization.  The new question identified which of
them was the main activity for the main organization.

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Last Modified Date: October 29, 2020