Friday, January 7, 2011

Passing Time or Making a Difference?: TV, Facebook, and the Dollar Value of Volunteering

Today I want to discuss one reason that probably contributes to why the majority of people are doing nothing to help anybody: They are too busy passing the time.

Rates of mental illness and crime are worse than they once were, and the gap between the richest and the poorest among us has been steadily increasing. These problems have many causes, but one thing that has definitely gone down is community collaboration. Many people don’t even spend enough time with their own families, much less their neighbors. We spend a lot of our time interacting with computer screens or staring inactively at televisions. We spend very little time interacting with strangers or reaching out to others.

Have technological advances caused us to spend our precious time on things we really don’t need? The answer is probably yes. One study, as reported in The Examiner, found that people spend an average of seven hours a month on Facebook. A small proportion of that time may be important professional networking, but my guess is upwards of 95% of it is not.

Did you know that for every hour you volunteer for a particular organization, you are giving them the equivalent of around $21? It varies by state, but it can be up to nearly $33, in Washington DC. (To see your state’s value and learn how the number is calculated, visit The Value of Volunteer Time at Independent Sector.) In other words, if you only gave up Facebook, if you’re like the average American, you could donate an extra $147 a month (in time) to a local organization. Add that to the nearly 3 hours per day most people spend watching TV (according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics), and you end up with approximately $1890 a month that you could theoretically volunteer to an organization!

Now I’m not suggesting that everybody can or should volunteer 100 hours a month, particularly if you work or attend school full time. But sometimes we lose sight of how much time we spend in front of the TV or computer. Maybe you could limit your TV use to a few hours a week, only your favorite shows, and your Facebook visits to one or two checks per day. Use some of the extra time to play board games with your family, tell each other about your day, or brainstorm about how you can help the community as a family. Spend just one of those hours each week volunteering and you could still be giving that organization the equivalent of $84 a month. So if you’ve been complaining that you wish you could afford the $10 or $15 monthly membership to a favorite organization, weigh your options.

You might fear missing a juicy status update or having nothing to say about Paula Abdul’s new show at the water cooler. But the next time you do, ask yourself if contributing to your community and leading a more meaningful life might be more important. Stop saying you will do it tomorrow and contact a few interesting local organizations today to see which ones need volunteers.

No comments:

Post a Comment