The Role and Value of Volunteers in Home- and Community-Based and Long-Term Care Programs for Older Adults

March 11, 2022
By Caryn Bruyere, Statistician, ACL Office of Performance and Evaluation

We know that every year, ACL-funded programs provide essential services and supports to millions of Americans to help them remain independent in their homes and maintain their health and well-being. But one fact that may be overlooked is that many programs rely heavily on the contribution of volunteers—individuals who give their time without pay to activities performed through an organization outside their own household.

For example, in some jurisdictions, nutrition programs (home-delivered meals and congregate meal sites) may actually be run by volunteers who perform the same tasks that paid staff members do in other areas. Also, senior centers or adult day programs with one or two paid staff members often rely on unpaid volunteers who provide important social activities, such as music or arts and crafts. Volunteers also often provide transportation to medical appointments.

In fact, without volunteers, many tribal, state, and local service programs could not provide nearly as many services, nor reach as many individuals in the community, as they currently do. Findings from a study conducted by ACL showed that in 2019, volunteers contributed about:

  • 56% of the total annual labor for Older Americans Act Title III area agencies on aging, for an estimated annual value of $1.7 billion;
  • 28.2% of the total annual labor for State Health Insurance Assistance Programs, or roughly $28 million in total estimated annual value; and
  • About 15.9% of the total certified ombudsmen annual labor for long-term care ombudsman programs, or roughly $14 million in total estimated annual value.

Recognizing the contribution of volunteers to ACL-funded programs is critical, especially in light of the challenges the U.S. is facing in supporting the independence and successful aging of older adults and adults with disabilities. For example, the U.S. aging population is expected to increase substantially over the next 40 years, with the population age 65 and older projected to reach 80.8 million by 2040 and 94.7 million by 2060. As a result, we will likely also see an increasing demand for ACL-funded program services and supports over the next several decades.

The question will be: can we ensure that the volunteer labor force these programs rely on can continue to meet the growing demand for services and supports in the future? With this question in mind, we need to continue to invest in efforts to support existing volunteers and recruit new volunteers. ACL-funded programs have already shown their ability to adapt—finding new, innovative strategies to use volunteers during the COVID-19 pandemic. ACL is committed to supporting programs in these efforts!

For more details on ACL’s study on the use of volunteers, see the final study report, a report documenting examples of effective volunteer practicesstories from volunteers that highlight their value to ACL programming, and a short infographic highlighting key findings.

ACL will host a webinar on Tuesday, March 15, 1:00 – 2:30 pm ET, to present the study findings and hear program grantees discuss innovative strategies for harnessing the skills of volunteers. Register here.

Last modified on 03/11/2022

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