Descriptive Title: Volunteering behaviors of San Francisco and California residents 15 years and older

Geographic Unit of Analysis: County

Volunteering behaviors of San Francisco and California residents 15 years and older, 2008-2010
  San Francisco California
Total % of population that volunteered between 2008-2010 22.6% 24.9%
Average annual hours volunteered for all organizations 120.2 142.8
By educational attainment    
     Less than a high school diploma 14.2% 14.2%
     High school graduates, no college 9.2% 16.2%
     Some college or associate degree 18.5% 27.4%
     Bachelor's degree or higher 30.2% 37.7%
Type of organization    
   Social and community service group 15.0% 13.2%
   Children's educational, sports, or recreational group 13.3% 23.3%
   Religious org. 11.9% 29.4%
   Some other type of org 9.0% 3.5%
   Environmental or animal care org. 7.7% 3.0%
   Health research or education org., including public health 7.4% 4.1%
   Cultural or arts org. 6.7% 2.6%
   Hospital, clinic, or healthcare org. 5.7% 3.2%
   Labor union, business, or professional org. 5.3% 0.8%
   Other educational group 4.3% 5.6%
   Sports or hobby group 2.5% 1.6%
   Political party or advocacy group 1.8% 1.2%
   Immigrant/refugee assistance 1.8% 0.2%
   Public safety org. 1.8% 0.8%
   Youth services group 1.7% 2.1%
   Civic org. 1.6% 2.4%
   International org. 0.0% 0.7%
Number of organizations volunteered for    
    1 organization 86.3% 71.5%
    2 organizations 11.2% 18.7%
    3 organizations 2.5% 6.3%
    4 organizations or more 0.0% 3.1%

Why Is This An Indicator Of Health and Sustainability?

Individuals who volunteer have been found to have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability and lower rates of depression later in life compared to those who do not volunteer.a One cross-sectional study of 4,000 adults found that there was a significant interaction between volunteering and chronic health conditions on positive affect and resilience.b

Interpretation and Geographic Equity Analysis

This indicator illustrates the percentage of residents that volunteer with organizations or groups in San Francisco, their average time volunteered, the number of organizations they’ve volunteered at and the type of organization that they volunteer with.  Between 2008 and 2010, an estimated 22.6% of San Francisco and 24.9% of California residents 15 years and older had volunteered in the past year.  On average, San Francisco residents volunteered 120.2 hours per year whereas California residents volunteered 142.8 hours per year.  The majority of individuals (86.3% in San Francisco and 71.5% in California) volunteered with one organization per year. 

In California, roughly one in three (29.4%) volunteers volunteered for a religious organization and one of every four (23.3%) volunteers volunteered for a children’s educational, sports or recreational group.  In San Francisco, there was a greater diversity in the types of organizations volunteered at, with notably fewer individuals volunteering for religious organizations (11.9%) or children’s educational, sports, or recreational groups (13.3%) compared to state. 

According to the CPS data, individuals with a bachelor’s degree or higher tended to volunteer more often than those with less formal education.  However, it should be noted that these volunteering behaviors are defined as having done volunteer activities through or for an organization.  Informal volunteering – such as helping out one’s neighbor – is not captured by this measure and so may underestimate the amount of time by certain populations spent helping out others without pay.


Data is from the US Census Bureau's Current Population Survey.  Due to the limited sample size within each individual state and error associated with annual estimates at the state level, the US Census Bureau recommends analyzing CPS data with multiple year samples.  Therefore SFDPH used a three year sample – 2008, 2009, and 2010 – to complete the analysis.  Data was extracted and manipulated using the Beta Data Ferrett in June 2012.

Volunteers are defined as persons who performed unpaid volunteer activities at any point during the 12-month period, from September 1 of the prior year through the survey week in September of the survey year. Volunteers who answered "yes" to one of the following questions were included in the data above: "Since September 1st of last year, have you done any volunteer activities through or for an organization?" (PES1) and "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/has he/has she) done any of these types of volunteer activities?” (PES2).

Other key indicators included San Francisco County and California (GESTFIPS = 06 AND GTCO = 075) under "Selectable Geographies"; Educational Attainment recoded in 4 categories (PREEDUCA4); Volunteer - Number of organizations (PES3); Volunteer - Annual Hours Volunteered - all orgs. (PRVLHRST); and Volunteer - Type of org. (main org.) (PRS4M1).

Individuals who were “Not in Universe” were excluded from the total population/denominator.  Both individuals who answered yes to PES1 and who answered no to PES1 but yes to follow up question PES2 were included in the numerator for each of the calculations, with the exception of average annual hours.  Average annual number of hours volunteered at all organizations only includes those individuals who answered yes to the first volunteer question (PES1) and does not include those individuals who answered yes to PES2 but had answered no to PES1.

Data is weighted for all variables using "PWSSWGT", the second stage/final weight used for most tabulations, to control for independent estimates for age, race, sex and origin.  More details on weighting are available at: 2010 CPS Voluntary Supplement Data Book:


Data is from the Current Population Survey which represents only a sample of the population, rather than the entire population.  The sample surveyed in San Francisco and California may differ from the “true” population of San Franciscans.  Like other sample surveys, CPS may not have sampled all segments of the population, respondents may have been unable or unwilling to provide correct information, and there may have been errors in data collection and processing. 

The questions asked by CPS allow for some subjective interpretation/classification that may have varied from respondent to respondent.  For example, individuals may have categorized an immigrant/refugee assistance organization or a children’s educational group as a social and community service group.  This may lead to a misclassification and under-reporting of certain types of organizations and over-reporting of others.

The CPS does not attempt to capture “informal volunteering” (such as giving a ride or mowing your neighbor’s yard when they are unable to).  Many individuals may informally volunteer with their neighbors  and other community members, but because they do not volunteer through or in an organization, that effort is not captured in the CPS. 

History has demonstrated that volunteering and giving can increase significantly following natural and major disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11/01 New York World Trade Center explosions.  Although there can be spikes in the number of volunteers and donations following a disaster or emergency situation, the Corporation for National and Community Service reports that disasters do not typically impact volunteer rates overall ( 

Data includes the non-institutionalized civilian population, so excludes individuals in institutions such as correctional facilities and nursing homes.  Institutionalized individuals may be encouraged or required to do unpaid activities within their institution that may benefit others/society, however this time is not accounted for in the CPS data.

Data Source

United States Census Bureau’s September 2010 Current Population Survey, Civic Supplement, obtained via DataFerrett in June 2012.

Table created by the San Francisco Department of Public Health, Environmental Health Section.

  1. Corporation for National and Community Service, Office of Research and Policy Development. The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research, Washington, DC 2007.

  2. Okun MA, Rios R, Crawford AV, Levy R.  2011. Does the Relation between Volunteering and Well-Being Vary with Health and Age? International Journal of Aging and Human Development. 72(3): 265-287.