The boom years of 1946 to 1964 boosted the country’s population by 77 million citizens. Long thought of as America’s greatest generation, the baby boomers have shaped our culture, from their political activism in the 1960s to their business savvy in the 1980s and beyond. Presently we see the leading edge of the boomers hitting retirement age. Consider these statistics:
- Beginning in January of 2006, the first boomers began turning 60, with an average life expectancy of 83.
- Twenty-five percent of the American population is comprised of members of the boomer demographic, the largest cohort in U.S. history.
- Every minute three boomers turn 50, while another six turn 60.
Even — and perhaps especially — as they approach retirement, baby boomers will continue to have a significant impact on society. While leaving huge holes in the workforce, all indications are that this group will still be motivated to contribute to their communities, often in the form of volunteerism.
But are organizations ready for the boomers? Currently most nonprofits are unprepared to accommodate the sheer number of potential volunteers. In addition, baby boomers boast a large number of well-educated, highly skilled executives, entrepreneurs, and leaders, many who will feel that their talents are not being put to use in low-level volunteer positions. Research indicates that these boomers should be placed at programming levels to fully utilize their abilities and keep them engaged. This will require some agencies to rethink their volunteer management, perhaps resisting the urge to fill unskilled positions with volunteers who clearly want and can contribute at a higher level.
Barbara Weiderecht of the Volunteer Center of Bergen County, New Jersey, sums up the current situation: “Today’s older volunteers do not want to be thought of as just office help or envelope stuffers, and are increasingly turning down all such opportunities. Yet when this is addressed with many of the agencies where we place volunteers, they do not understand nor do they want to hear it. What do they expect? They’re only volunteers, is a frequent reply. That attitude is deadly for attracting volunteers.”
Thankfully, organizations are beginning to change their views, tapping into the wealth of knowledge the boomers bring with them. Retirees are being placed as volunteers in key areas such as strategic planning, program development, information technology, and training/education.
Appealing to the Boomer Generation
Aside from matching skill level, studies also provide other key recommendations for attracting and retaining baby boomer volunteers:
- Market your agency’s purpose. Clearly state your mission and articulate the means in which you seek to attain your goal.
- Consider volunteers as part of the organization’s regular workforce.
- Provide a variety of volunteer tenures. Some volunteers may want to complete a one-time project, while others may want to commit to a regular schedule.
- Provide incentives: social interaction, advancement opportunities, public recognition, etc.
- Insure that volunteers are well trained, organized, and managed. Baby boomers want to see that their time and skills are being used effectively and efficiently.
Although accommodating, attracting, and retaining baby boomer volunteers may initially require reorganizing and rethinking of current systems, these investments will reap huge rewards. If organizations will allow it, the generation that took social activism and industry to new heights will do the same for volunteerism.