Richmond, VA (September 2023) – Serve Virginia, the lead agency of the Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS) for community service and volunteerism, is proud to announce the release of the inaugural Virginia Community Engagement Index (VCEI).
The VCEI is a new resource that reveals firsthand information about how Virginians dedicate their time to the organizations and activities that serve their communities. Through a survey disseminated in January, Serve Virginia collected responses from more than 6,000 Virginians who provided insights on volunteerism, informal helping, and other civic actions across the Commonwealth.
According to the VCEI, Virginians dedicate their time to organizations that address the needs they care about most. Education (48 percent), health and well-being (47 percent) and housing (40 percent) ranked as high priority needs facing their communities. Respondents also frequently reported volunteering with youth or educational organizations, food pantries or hunger relief efforts, as well as hospitals or health organizations. The VCEI reports that spirituality and lived experience are among the top five reasons Virginians choose to volunteer their time to their communities; houses of worship or religious organizations are in the top five places respondents choose to volunteer.
“The VCEI is a first-of-its-kind resource that provides data and insight about how Virginians serve in their communities as well as a framework that will connect research to strategic action,” says Kathy Spangler, director of Serve Virginia. “This report represents a unique moment for Virginia as we use this unprecedented level of insight into civic health and community engagement to identify our most pressing community needs and mobilize around effective solutions.”
Virginians not only contributed to the good of their community through organized activities, but also by regularly helping their neighbors. The VCEI found that 7 out of 10 people report helping others through informal service with over 50 percent saying they do so more than once a month. Those who identify as active volunteers report engaging in service multiple times per month. Respondents report the feeling of fulfillment from helping others, the opportunity to share their skills, and the social environment provided by volunteer activities as the reasons they continue to volunteer with organizations across the Commonwealth.
“The VCEI helps us understand what it means to ‘show up in our communities’, whether we’re talking about volunteering, voting, philanthropy, or advocacy. This is also about building the relationships we need,” says Vanessa Diamond, senior vice president of civic engagement at Community Foundation for Greater Richmond and member of the VCEI core team. “The conversations we had when developing the VCEI were so essential; these are the conversations we need to continue having if we want to strengthen the infrastructure of Virginia’s social and civic network, build better programming, and strengthen access points for community members to get involved.”
The strategy and design of the VCEI involved the engagement and input of more than 38 Virginia organizations and institutions. SIR, a Richmond-based research and consulting firm, was recruited to support the design and provide analyses of the more than 6,000 responses received from residents throughout the Commonwealth.
The Virginia Community Engagement Index, available online at Serve Virginia, brings a state, regional, and local level focus to national volunteerism research, including AmeriCorps’ biannual study on Volunteering and Civic Engagement in America and recent findings from Points of Light. The VCEI insights are designed to inform how communities mobilize using service and volunteerism as an asset to address pressing needs and priorities, while inspiring all Virginians to get involved and make a difference
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