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Retirees can be productive volunteers

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By Robert K. Otterbourg

Now that you are about to retire how are you going to keep busy? How are you going to replace the 2,000 to 2,500 hours that were once spent in work and work-related activities?

Most retirees are not ready in their late 50s and early 60s to be spectators sitting on the sidelines. They spent years honing business and professional skills. Why let them go fallow?

One alternative is to put these skills to work as officers and directors of nonprofits.

Other managers and professionals retire, but they never want to attend another staff meeting, planning session or three-day workshop. Thirty-five years of being good corporate team players was enough.

With good reason, these retirees shun boards. They prefer to do hands-on work – volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, driving for Wheels on Meals, tutoring students, serving as museum docents, helping disabled adults attend to their daily chores or working as outdoor environmentalists.

Many retirement-age men and women are dedicated volunteers who became involved with nonprofits in a variety of roles, such as a legal advocate for the poor, a historian and spokesperson for a state park, or a a pro bono management and strategic plan advisor.

To be a volunteer, only get involved with organizations where you have a real passion for the organization and what it does.

The last thing nonprofits need are volunteers and board members who fail to be dedicated and mission-driven.

We each define this interest in nonprofits somewhat differently.

Some volunteers are real leaders. They enjoy and are capable of assuming leadership positions. Others are hands-on folks who prefer to work directly with the nonprofit agency’s clientele. And some have the marketing and social skills to conduct fund raising functions and seek donations.

Each group is critical to the operation and success of most nonprofits.

What’s more, nonprofits need volunteers who are wise, wealthy or workers.

All too many retirees say they joined a nonprofit board because they feel it is “payback time” for their past business and professional success.

This represents at best a condescending attitude.

Better yet, people should say they became volunteers because they like to read to children, or as a longtime potter wanted to help stroke victims reclaim their manual skills, or wanted to use their management skills in behalf of a nonprofit.


Robert K. Otterbourg of Durham, N.C., is the author of Retire & Thrive, volunteers as a reader with the Triangle Radio Reading Service, and serves as its board president.

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