Monday, October 8, 2007

'Ssup With Minnesota?

Recently, the Minneapolis-St Paul Metro Area was declared the "number 1 metro area" for volunteering in the U.S., with 40.5 percent of residents--that's nearly half --volunteering annually, compared to a national average rate of 28.1 percent. The metro area also topped the rankings for retention of volunteers, with 77.3 percent of people returning to volunteer for the same organization or cause in multiple years. And Minnesota was third in the statewide volunteer rankings with 40.4 percent of people volunteering (Utah and Nebraska topped the list).

So is there something in the water up there--or do they know something the rest of us don't?
According to Volunteering in America: 2007 City Trends and Rankings, there are four key drivers of volunteering: community attachment; commuting times; high school graduation levels and poverty; and the prevalence of nonprofits and their capacity to retain volunteers from year to year.

While the first three drivers do favor Minnesota, the importance of the numerous vibrant nonprofits and civic organizations that exist in this rather cold climate (maybe people need to huddle together to stay warm?) can't be understated. The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits has long been one of the country's most dynamic nonprofit associations, representing and giving voice to thousands of nonprofits, their members and their constituencies. Minnesota is also home to one of the country's best resources on citizen-centered civic engagement: The Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs and the Center for Democracy and Citizenship. Under the leadership of Harry Boyte, a seminal thinker and doer on these issues, the institutions have become nationally-recognized leaders in developing and assessing effective strategies for citizenship.

A particularly innovative and recent initiative, for example, is the CDC's new “Warrior to Citizen” campaign, which is matching Iraq war veterans' skills with local community needs. And in true citizen-centered form, St. Paul's mayor, Chris Coleman, continually talks about the need for "neighborhood learning" and the importance of a sense of "place" in the community--a message that is bolstered by a strong Youth Commission through which teens from different neighborhoods in the city work to engage their peers on issues of concern to the larger community.

So, should we all move there?

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