THE BLOG
07/01/2016 02:19 pm ET Updated Jul 02, 2017

In a Digital Society, In Real Life (IRL) Community Still Matters

America is a nation of dreamers and doers, a country shaped and propelled forward by visionaries banding together to promote social good and create meaningful change. From the first colonists working together to survive in the New World to the creation of the Day of Service following the attacks of 9/11, community engagement and volunteerism has always been at the core of who we are. It has allowed us to grow strong roots in our communities and create opportunities that improve the lives of the people we live, work and socialize with. In many ways, community engagement is the heartbeat of our nation.

In today's digital world, however, it's become easy to feel less connected with our local communities and more engaged with the virtual ones technology affords us. With every new app or social media platform, the digital chatter grows - and that in real life (IRL) community engagement is getting a little lost in the noise. In 2014, volunteerism hit its lowest level in more than a decade(1). And today, 51 percent of Americans are choosing to donate money instead of time (2). As the trend is to plug in and tune out, the level of engagement in our own communities has started to stall.

There's no question that technology, and specifically social media, is an influential tool and incredible unifier. It allows us to dissolve barriers and connect with others around the world, providing windows into the extraordinarily varied spectrum of experience. When a community halfway across the world is ailing, we have the power and the platform to engage with them, show our solidarity and extend our compassion and support. But as our global "hashtag society" grows, we can't forget that being "connected" goes beyond Wi-Fi. Demonstrating social responsibility online is valuable and empowering, but at the end of the day, it's still important to activate on it in the real world.

So what is "real" connectivity? To me, it's about being an active participant in the vibrant, dynamic communities that still exist in our own backyards. It's about using social media to speak up and share your voice, but then reinforcing that Tweet or Facebook post with a positive action and valuable impact. It's easy to write a check, push a button or share a post, but the act of giving one's time for the greater good is truly irreplaceable.

Volunteerism is a powerful thing. It enhances social connections and builds bridges for government, enterprises and employees. It promotes and enhances key issues in our society, including the educational performance of our youth and environmental awareness. Being active and engaged even has positive effects on volunteers themselves, increasing self-esteem and enhancing skill sets, as well as improving physical and mental well-being (3). With such extensive benefits, the question remains: why are people volunteering less?

U.S. Bank set out to find this answer, and through a recent survey found that for most Americans, not having enough time is perceived as the greatest barrier to volunteering, and choosing to give financially instead is another major reason. Others either don't know how to get involved or simply don't want to volunteer alone. While this sentiment may seem discouraging, from this comes an opportunity. We have a chance to get people engaged and excited again. We have a chance to remind the nation why "IRL" community still matters - and better yet, provide a way for people to participate.

As a bank, we are deeply entrenched in the communities we serve. We don't just have products in-market; we are part of our local communities. The vibrancy of the villages, towns and cities we serve - rural or urban - impacts our customers, our employees and ultimately, our business. But whether you're a banker, business owner, teacher, artist, student, mom or dad - you have the power to get up and get out, do something meaningful, and make a difference that can change lives. There is truly something in it for everyone.

Through our Community Possible Relay: Race to 153K we are doing our part to reinvigorate volunteerism in our local communities. For over a month now our U.S. Bank coach bus, or what we refer to as our "mobile baton," has been on the road, traveling from city to city, inspiring a wave of volunteerism, and issuing a call-to-action for people to help give back to their communities. By partnering with remarkable organizations and non-profits, and using social media to support our efforts along the way, we're taking activism into our own hands and doing the things that matter - whether it's restoring parks and building affordable homes, engaging and inspiring local youth through art and science, or teaching budgeting and financial literacy to those in need. By the time we're done, we'll have traveled 12,000 miles, visiting 38 communities in 25 states with a goal to activate 153,000 volunteers nation-wide - 1,000 for every year we've been in business.

Joining forces with local volunteers, donating our time and energy, and uniting people over hashtags and action is how we have chosen to demonstrate our commitment to community. It's our way of showing that we are more than bystanders; we are the dreamers and doers who power possible and who fuel change.

I believe America is uniquely positioned for a revitalization of volunteerism - but no person, business or organization can inspire a nation alone. By working together - the way we always have - we can and will make a difference both locally and beyond. I encourage all Americans, and all businesses, to join the movement, help bring "community" back to life, and make everyone's possible happen.

Let's get connected again.

1 Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov)
2 U.S. Bancorp/Wakefield Survey (2016)
3 The Health Benefits of Volunteering (NationalService.gov)