Rhianna Stepien

Volunteering in the United States’ 10 Largest Cities

Giving back to the community comes in many forms, but taking the time to volunteer directly is considered a positive way to impact a society. While some students volunteer out of requirement, it is an activity that can span all ages, races, genders, etc. The United States government provides citizens with reports on volunteer rates and statistics through the Corporation for National and Community Service. The data is collected in a Volunteer Supplement to the Current Population Survey. They define volunteers as persons who perform volunteer activities in unpaid positions.

These reports provide information on “Volunteering and Civic Life in America” with data dating back to 1974. One can look up information by the nation, states and large city statistics in categories including percentages of those who donate to charity, volunteer rates, where people volunteer, retention rates and more. The Corporation for National and Community Service provides information and statistics on the importance of volunteering, discussing how people who volunteer are more likely to gets jobs, more likely to donate their money, more likely to provide value to the community, etc. Volunteering has to potential to provide benefits for both individuals and society and by analyzing the data, there may be patterns and a clear demonstration of further reasons to get involved.

While many people understand the importance and potential benefit of volunteering, many do not know how many citizens in the United States truly get involved in their communities. The higher the volunteer rates and the more people contributing to society, the better off everyone will be. This look at different volunteering categories in large United States cities will demonstrate how common volunteering is in America, and in the largest U.S. cities, and potentially inspire readers to make a change and participate more in the community. This inspiration would result from learning about how many citizens are not actively participating and seeing how much more can be done.

The question of whether or not people are getting involved enough in the betterment of United States society is up to readers’ interpretation, but the goal of this paper is to answer the question of whether or not people living in United States cities are volunteering as much as the people volunteering on a national scale and how they compare. It will also detail what could be done to increase involvement and what areas need the most assistance. The idea is that readers will better understand the importance of volunteering in the community and want society to work together and contribute to those in need.

This piece analyzes and compares data from information released on large cities and, more specifically, the 10 largest cities in the United States based on population rates in 2015. While the government website portrays a set of visualizations, this will display a more direct comparison and offer a closer look into how the larger cities compare to national data in several different categories.

To begin, the list of the 10 largest cities in the United States, in order, include: New York, New York; Los Angeles, California; Chicago, Illinois; Houston, Texas; Philadelphia, PA; Phoenix, Arizona; San Antonio, Texas; San Diego, California; Dallas, Texas; and San Jose, California. One can see where these cities are located, along with their ranking for size, on a map of the United States below. This will allow for an easier identification for where these cities are located and their relative size. These cities were chosen due to having complete data in the survey collected by the Corporation for National and Community Service.


As one can see, the largest cities span multiple states and regions of the world. By understanding where these cities are located in the country, it is possible to see if there are any trends in volunteer rates in the different regions of the United States. This map also allows one to analyze whether or not particular cities are excelling at volunteering in the United States and could potentially be models or have better programs available for citizens. This opens up the possibility for more questions and opportunities for further research.

The first category, from the Corporation for National and Community Service, is the percentages of people who donated money to charity. This will allow one to see whether or not those who donate money to charity are more or less likely to volunteer their time in the community. By comparing this analysis to future charts, one can look for potential correlations within the cities and regions.


There was a range for the percentage of people donating to charity across the 10 largest cities in the United States from 46-65 percent. The national average suggests that 56 percent of the nation’s citizens donated to charity in 2014. Four of these cities fall under the national average, one is equivalent and five cities are above the average. In this chart, there is no distinct pattern for which region of the nation is more or less likely to donate to charity or that the largest cities are more likely to be above or below the national average.

This could be indicative of several things and opens up several new questions. Large cities tend to have very diverse populations with different socio-economic statuses. From what this chart shows, being in a large city and donating money to charity does not differ much from the national average. This could lead into a look at the relationship between average income and likelihood to donate in cities and more.

Another facet of the information given by the Corporation for National and Community Service was the volunteer rates, by percentage, ranging from 1974 to 2015. These rates were calculated by whether or not a person donates their time to charity and volunteers. However, many of the larger city data was incomplete and because of this the graph below will continue to only compare the 10 largest U.S. cities. This chart covers from the year 2004 until 2014. The following chart depicts the volunteer rates compared to the national average:


Each colored line represents a different city and another represents the national average. This graph is very telling of how the cities compare to each other in volunteer rates over an extended time period. New York has the lowest volunteer rate every single year, falling down to a low of 15 percent in 2007. On average, Los Angeles, Houston, Phoenix, Chicago and San Antonio all fall below the national average as well. San Diego, San Jose and Dallas are generally above. Philadelphia, PA falls around the average in the end after a lot of variation each year.

Where the earlier chart depicting how America’s largest cities donate to charity in a comparison that did not appear as different, there is much more variety in the volunteer rates and how they have changed over time. This could be due to several reasons, including whether or not one would see a similar pattern in donation rates over time (unfortunately not available with the data set), whether there is a relationship between the likelihood in donating to money and donating to time, etc.

Another aspect to look at was if rates were affected by the economic recession that the United States went through during these years. Through comparisons and analyses there is no year in which most of the cities behave in the exact same way, suggesting that volunteer rates were not seriously affected by the economic turmoil. This chart may suggest that largest cities have the potential to have lower volunteer rates than the national average or other areas. This allows one to explore further into a deeper comparison to see which areas, whether it be larger cities or other areas, that are more likely to volunteer their time.

This chart at a first glance does suggest that these large cities, individually do not have a clear correlation between region of the country and likelihood of volunteering over time. Where the Corporation for National and Community Service does provide individual data, these charts are able to display more direct comparisons and can look for a correlation between city size and likelihood to give back to the community in time, money, etc.

While no single large U.S. city has a higher volunteer rate than the national average consistently in the years of 2004-2014, there are some cities that have patterns of higher involvement in both volunteering and the proportion of people donating to charity. By looking into specific cities that continually have higher rates than both other large cities and the national average, one will be able to find if some cities are more charitable than others. While the cities’ rates vary over time, data will be able to show how these cities compare on average.

Two U.S. cities in particular at this point have consistently been higher than the national average in both the rates of donating to charity and in volunteer rates over time. Those two cities are San Antonio, Texas and San Jose, California. On the other side of the national average, New York, New York and Los Angeles, California, consistently fall below both the national average and other cities in the the percentage of citizens donating to charity and volunteer rates from 2004 to 2014. This opens up another question on whether or not these trends will continue in the other categories that this piece will compare. New York and Los Angeles are the two largest U.S. cities, where San Antonio and San Jose come in at numbers eight and ten. This suggests it may be worth looking into a relationship between city size and how the cities score in the categories. Whether there are factors such as poverty rates, socio economic status, etc. that may also be factors in this potential trend.

Another piece of data that is offered by the Corporation for National and Community Service is the volunteer retention rates. It is calculated by using the percentage of people that continue to volunteer from year to year and the chart below looks at the retention in the 10 largest U.S. cities in 2014:


As displayed, the national average comes in at a 67 percent retention rate. Five of the ten largest U.S. cities are above the national average. This is different from the other charts at this point in the fact that this is the first time when half of the largest cities are higher than the national average. This suggests that while the volunteer rates are, on average, lower than the national average, the cities are still able to have higher retention rates with the numbers of volunteers that they do have.

Where earlier charts showed that San Antonio, Texas and San Jose, California were consistently higher than the national average in some categories, this is the first time in which San Antonio falls below the national average. San Jose is still considerably higher, having the second highest retention rate of all 10 U.S. cities. Further research may show that of the United States’ 10 largest cities, San Jose is most likely one of the more involved and successful in volunteering in society. New York, New York and Los Angeles, California again have scores below the national average. This has been seen in all of the different visualizations that have compared the 10 cities and national average and suggests that these are one of the least successful of the larger cities in terms of volunteering time. This could spark a further look into what factors can affect a larger cities rates, especially in cities that are the largest in the United States. It also suggests that people in these cities should consider becoming more active in their communities.

Since the majority of the largest cities are above the national average in retention, this suggests that the issue of volunteering is not in retaining the volunteers but in getting more citizens involved. This would require more data since these retention rates are only for the year of 2014 and do not show how the rates have changed over a longer period of time, but is apparent in 2014.

This could feed into a further discussion on what could potentially affect the number of people volunteering in the communities versus what would affect whether or not they are retained and continue to help better society with their time and money. Another question that has been brought up throughout these charts and in the search for trends is if different regions of the nation are more or less likely to be above or below the national average. This will be looked at in the next visualization.

The question on regions and their average scores in the category of volunteer rates is considered in the final chart in this piece. There are three defined regions: “More Western Cities,” “More Southern Cities” and “More Eastern Cities.” The Western cities include Los Angeles, California; San Diego, California; San Jose, California; and Phoenix, Arizona. The Southern Cities include Houston, Texas; Dallas, Texas; and San Antonio, Texas. Finally, the Eastern Cities include New York, New York; Chicago, Illinois and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

This chart compares the volunteer rates in the three earlier defined regions over the three most recent years from 2014 to 2014. While there are obvious differences between the three regions compared to the national average, there is not one region that is significantly higher or lower than the others or the average. The region of cities that appear to be above the national average for the majority of the years is those in the Western region. This region even includes Los Angeles, which had lower scores in all categories at this point. The Southern and Eastern cities are both lower than the national average in general, but the Southern cities have the smallest numbers in comparison to the other regions and national average.

This chart suggests a few different things. It suggests that larger cities, or the area in general, in the western United States tends to have more volunteer participation than other regions in the nation. This would need further investigation to establish a true causation or correlation, but is suggested from this initial visualization. This could also open a discussion into why certain regions are more or less likely to have people volunteering in society. If it is affected by the difference in weather, population makeup, socio economic statuses, etc. This could be really interesting to see if there are factors that could be introduced into the other regions to encourage more participation and create a more active community.

Overall these visualizations and this piece investigate volunteer rates and more in the 10 largest U.S. cities. It answered the original question of how common it is for people to give back to the community and help better society. The first chart demonstrated where the 10 largest cities were located and their rank in size. This background was able to foster a deeper investigation on differences in regions and city size and how that contributes to city rates.

In terms of donating to charity, it appeared that larger cities do have a higher amount of people donating money. Most of the cities fell above the national average in this category, where they faltered in comparison to the national average in others. There may be reasons why people are more likely to donate money over time in larger cities and this is something that could be explored further. Volunteer rates over the time period of 2004 to 2014 showed that many of the cities fell under the national average. This suggests that volunteer rates in larger cities are usually not as high as the national average and that these larger cities have a lot of room to grow in terms of increasing volunteering and giving back. Volunteer retention rates displayed in the fourth chart showed that these 10 cities do not have as much issue with retention as they do with the rates in general. However, this was only done for one year due to the availability of data and that could have revealed a different pattern. This discussion could use more data to find if there are trends in retention rates in the different cities and in comparison with the national averages.

Looking into regions requires a lot more data and depth to make a definitive statement on. However, the initial chart did show that the Western cities may have higher volunteer participation than larger cities in other regions of the country. This piece gave a more in-depth profile that allowed for comparisons between major cities and different aspects of volunteering in the United States and opens up many possibilities for future exploration and encouragement for future involvement.