How National Volunteer Week Works

How National Volunteer Week Started

Calling voluntarism "one of the hallmarks of American life," President Richard Nixon signed an executive order on April 20, 1974, declaring that the week be dedicated to those who give their time to charity.

"I urge all Americans to observe that week by seeking out an area in their community in which they can give to a needy individual or worthy cause by devoting a few hours, or more, to volunteer service," Nixon said in the proclamation that established National Volunteer Week [source: The American Presidency Project].

Since then, all the U.S. presidents who've followed have renewed the pledge, adding their own platitudes about the virtues of volunteering.

During his state of the union address in 1991, President George H.W. Bush said that the way to renew America is to "find meaning and reward by serving some purpose higher than ourselves, a shining purpose, the illumination of a thousand points of light."

The Points of Light Foundation & Volunteer Center, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit founded in the early 1990s to support volunteer organization, named itself after that phrase in Bush's speech.

Since then, The Points of Light Foundation (now called the Points of Light Institute after merging with the Hands On Network in 2007) has sponsored National Volunteer Week, providing nonprofits with resource guides that provide ideas for how to reward volunteers and get media attention for events, including a press release template [source: Foundation Center].

The institute has more than 360 volunteer centers around the country that help local nonprofits establish and improve their volunteer programs, including running a national, toll-free hotline (1-800-Volunteer) that gives callers information about volunteer opportunities in their community [source: Points of Light].

Read on to find some ideas for how to celebrate your volunteers.