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A Recipe for More Boomer Volunteers

October 21, 2013 in Engaging Wisdom



Invite Boomers to Serve on Boards, Not Serve Meals

Much has been said about the third age and how many baby boomers are transforming their lives with new work and volunteering opportunities. Indeed, older adult volunteers can be a boon to Aging Services organizations, but it can be challenging to get volunteers in the door.

Let’s look at boomers as an example. Why it is that less than a third of boomers volunteer? Why is it that, according to the government’s annual Volunteering in the United States report, both the number and percentage of Americans age 45 to 64 who volunteered in the 12 months ending September 2012 fell slightly from the previous year?

Why Boomers Don’t Volunteer More

Our thoughts immediately turn to the boomer cohort itself. Boomers need to work longer, having been hit hard by the Great Recession. They have family obligations, and they are busy. They want to travel, visit grandchildren, and simplify life. While these factors are all true and make recruitment and retention a challenge, none of these is the primary reason for the reported decline.

The primary reason that many boomers and other older adults like them don’t volunteer more is that they are not finding the right fit or opportunity available.  And in instances where they do volunteer, according to a prior year’s report, one in three leaves within 12 months. Underlying this reason is that leaders at the organizations where boomers volunteer may be unaware of or uninformed about an emerging new breed of volunteer—and the extreme potential these new volunteers hold in strengthening an organization and expanding its capacity to provide services.

Board Service, Not Food Service

Today’s potential volunteers, along with a cadre of their predecessors, are looking for challenging opportunities that do the following:

  • Put their talents and skills to use
  • Engage them in finding or working toward a solution
  • Allow them to work closely with others
  • Provide them choice of roles with the option to change roles as circumstances and needs change
  • Give them satisfaction in producing or seeing results and impact
  • Engage them professionally, similarly to staff.

Namely, the right fit for these volunteers taps their sense of purpose, offers deep meaning, and provides them the type of work environment in which they can contribute and thrive.  According to the Volunteering in the United States report, “providing professional or management assistance, including serving on a board or committee” has moved up to be the second most popular form of volunteering for Americans over age 55, after “collecting, preparing, distributing, or serving food.”

Folks at the Aging Network’s Volunteer Collaborative are offering a way to significantly increase the number of older adult volunteers in the Aging Services Network and keep them volunteering.  The Volunteer Collaborative will train seasoned volunteers to implement the new volunteer engagement strategy developed exclusively for the Aging Network.

By conducting 10 regional PowerUP! Institutes, from January to August 2014, volunteers who are boomer age and older will learn to work in self-directed teams to solve challenges for Aging Services organizations.

This new strategy of training volunteers to develop volunteer opportunities and implement projects that extend an agency’s reach is designed to attract today’s volunteers. A key element of the PowerUP! initiative, it aligns the priority needs of Aging Services Network programs and Area Agencies on Aging with the characteristics of today’s volunteers.  In addition, it dramatically reduces startup investments an organization would need to make to create a volunteer program, lowers the staff burden for administering volunteer programs, and produces results that meet the most pressing needs of vulnerable elders.  Learn more about the PowerUP! engagement strategy and training today.

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