Boomer volunteers a valuable resource

Thomas E. Endres

For nonprofits struggling with reduced budgets and increased demand for services, older adult volunteers are an available and abundant resource – and a smart investment.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics noted a 4.5 percent increase in older adult volunteers in 2009, and demographics suggest the trend is escalating.

Retiring Baby Boomers seeking meaningful volunteer opportunities offer a wealth of professional skills and experience to nonprofits, yet remain an untapped or underutilized asset.

Over the last three years, the National Council on Aging worked with over 40 nonprofits throughout the U.S. to engage Boomer volunteers and determine the true cost of training, recruiting and managing them.

Our findings show a tangible benefit: On average, nonprofits can enjoy a return of $8,000 for every $1,000 spent on older adult volunteers.

It’s not about changing the volunteer; nonprofits seeking to leverage this talent pool may need to slightly change themselves.

From what we’ve learned, here’s what it takes to turn the Baby Boom into a resource boom for your organization:

  • Ensure everyone is on board.

Communicate openly with current employees and volunteers about how the organization may need to adapt to integrate these skilled volunteers. The entire staff needs to work together as a team; not view new talent as a threat. Volunteers who are not welcomed or appreciated will not stay.

  • Recruit the right talent.

Boomer volunteers often seek projects with a mission, not a task. Position the role as an opportunity to make an impact on the community, and conduct interviews to fill it. This job-oriented approach attracts talented volunteers more so than positioning the role as just a volunteer opportunity.

  • Manage and match talent accordingly.

Boomers want to put their years of experience to good use, and nonprofits must be willing to manage them in a new way. A volunteer with a marketing background need not spend hours stuffing promotional folders, but should have access to your current marketing plan to provide strategic guidance. Be open to volunteers taking on leadership roles, and be ready to create new positions to utilize this talent.

There has never been a better time for nonprofits to leverage the power of older adults.

The skills, experience, and perspective of these volunteers can truly transform nonprofits and the communities they serve.

If you are willing integrate, innovate, and experiment, you too can enjoy a boom in resources.

Thomas E. Endres is vice president for civic engagement at the National Council on Aging.

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