The data in this release were collected through a supplement to the September 2012
Current Population Survey (CPS). The CPS--a monthly survey of about 60,000 households
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 characteristics
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 represent. The
component of this difference that occurs because samples differ by chance is known
as sampling error, and this variability is measured by the standard error of the
estimate. There is about a 90-percent chance, or level of confidence, that an estimate
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 conducted 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, inability
to obtain information for all respondents in the sample, inability or unwillingness
of respondents to provide correct information, and errors made in the collection 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, data in this
release are not strictly comparable with data for earlier years. Additional
information is available on the internet at www.bls.gov/cps/documentation.htm#pop.
Volunteer questions and concepts
In the September 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
considered important for the volunteer supplement because research indicated that
self-respondents could more easily answer questions on the characteristics of the
volunteer activity. About 7 of 10 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 organization,
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
following question: "Sometimes people don't think of activities they do infrequently
or activities they do for children's schools or youth organizations as volunteer
activities. Since September 1st of last year, have you done any of these types of
Respondents were considered volunteers if they answered "yes" to either of these
questions. This method has been used since the supplement was first administered
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
activity was. The reference period for the questions on volunteering was about
1 year, from September 1, 2011, through the survey reference week in September 2012.
The reference period for other characteristics--such as labor force status, educational
attainment, and marital status--refer to the survey reference week in September 2012.
It is possible that these characteristics were different at the time volunteer
activities were performed.
One new question was added to the 2008 survey to determine whether or not respondents
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 respondents
who had attended public meetings or who had worked with others in their neighborhood
to fix a problem did so.
Volunteers are persons who performed unpaid volunteer activities at any point during
the survey reference year. The count of volunteers 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
added 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
categories 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 categories, those persons who did report that they volunteered for
immigrant/refugee assistance 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
necessary 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 report on the organization for which they think they spent the most
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 years.
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.