Are You Ready For the Volunteer Boom?

Volunteerism February 11, 2011

Lori Halley

By Lori Halley

There are 77 million Baby Boomers - between the ages of 46 and 64 - in the US and another 10 million across Canada. Based on sheer numbers alone, this group represents a boon to the volunteer world. But it gets even better - "boomers" are also generally well educated, wealthy and skilled individuals who have already proven their willingness to volunteer - with nearly a third of boomers volunteering for formal organizations. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service's "Baby Boomers & Volunteering" issue brief, these Boomer volunteers:

  • Have the highest volunteer rate of any age group. The volunteer rates for boomers - 33.2% - is the highest of any age group.
  • Volunteer an average of 51 hours a year. With the exception of people over the age of 65, boomers volunteer the most of any group.

Understanding How to Work With Boomer Volunteers

So how can or should organizations take advantage of this "untapped resource of extraordinary proportions?" There seems to be a consensus that to successfully engage boomer volunteers, we need to understand their needs and how they differ from past volunteers. In a Charity Village article, Working With Baby Boomers, Donna Lockhart (of Rethink Group) suggests the following "three ideas for working with Baby Boomer Volunteers:"

  1. Address the Opportunities you offer to volunteers:  Since "this highly-skilled, resourceful and influential group... may not be willing do do traditional or menial tasks or commit to long-term positions, you need to examine your current volunteer opportunities and see if they can be altered to be more appealing.  Provide a range of volunteer opportunities including short-term and project based. Opportunities that use and build on current skills and where outcomes can be seen will appeal to this group.
  2. Be "Volunteer Centered":  While "volunteer managers can be task- or position-driven...offering people defined or fixed work that the organization determined volunteers could do," organizations must now: Listen to how Boomers want to commit their time and resources toward volunteering and recognize the high level of expertise and accomplishments of boomers by incorporating self-management and distance leadership into your volunteer program structure.
  3. Benefits-driven marketing for volunteer positions: Boomers want to see the actual impact of their work...they ask for updates of how the organization has changed the lives of its clients. Marketing from an impact or benefits approach (outcome measurement) may have great emotional appeal to a generation whose work life was results-driven. 

Identifying and Harnessing This Booming Volunteer Energy

Volunteer Job Redesign the Key to Success:

The folks at Volunteer Canada agree that in order to take advantage of this booming volunteer opportunity, organizations need to adapt their volunteer programs. In fact, they've created a workbook to help, called Baby Boomers  Your New Volunteers an Introductory Workbook: Rethinking your organization's approach to Baby Boomer volunteers. They suggest that "job design is the key to success. When baby boomers volunteer, they want mission-linked, productive, satisfying work that allows them to use their skills and experience. They want short-term work, flexible schedules at convenient locations, including opportunities to volunteer online." Volunteer Canada has produced a number of resources to help organizations understand boomers and re-design volunteer positions to engage 50+ volunteers.

Matching Volunteer Personalities With Tasks:

In a previous blog post, Rebecca Leaman, our Curious Apricot blog writer, noted that "volunteers will stay longer and work better for your non-profit organization if you can match their personalities and passions with appropriate tasks. Could a simple quiz help you to ensure your volunteers are matched up with the kind of work they'll enjoy for the long haul?" Her post - 8 Quick Quizzes for New Volunteers - includes "a few of the many self-administered quizzes and questionnaires available on the Internet, designed to help prospective volunteers find opportunities to suit their personal work styles, skills, interests and goals." These online quizzes may generate ideas about how your organization can help incoming volunteers match skills and personalities with volunteer tasks.

Read More: Successful Volunteer Teams Have These Four Types of People

Implement New or Optimize Your Existing Membership Management Software:

Online volunteer management software, like WildApricot's can help you attract new volunteers, communicate with existing ones and keep track of them more effectively. Online or SaaS (Software as a Service) offerings such as WildApricot's Membership Management Software, act as a kind of virtual assistant to automate and streamline administrative tasks - including volunteer management - for your club, association or community. For example, WildApricot can help you:

  • Create and keep your volunteer database up-to-date automatically:  create groups on membership/volunteer application forms to identify different types of volunteers or contacts - to enable customized emails about specific projects or events
  • Communicate quickly and easily with your volunteers: via customized emails to volunteers/members as well a through blogs or forums to enable volunteer groups (and staff/committee/board members) to communicate on  topics of interest to their specific volunteer activity
  • Create member- or volunteer-only pages or sections of your website

Engaging Boomers:

In a recent blog post, "6 Tips for Nonprofits About How to Reach Baby Boomers as They Turn 65," Joanne Fritz ( Guide) reminds us that "Baby Boomers aren't all alike. They are spread along a 19 year span...But one thing you can count on: those crossing the 65 year threshold right now went through a cultural earthquake. They are not frightened by change and are, perhaps, more adaptable than most other generations. ... Don't tiptoe around them. Give them the information they need, tell them your opinion, ask them to help."

How Will Your Organization Take Advantage of This Booming Volunteer Opportunity?

Volunteer Canada suggests that "your organization's ability to meet its mission might just depend on whether or not you can attract - and keep - baby boomers as volunteers." This means being open to rethinking and restructuring your volunteer programs and this, in turn, requires support from the entire organization. You also have to be realistic in terms of your expectations. As Sue Carter Kahl, reminds us in a recent Volunteer San Diego blog post, having access to so many volunteers can feel like "the best of times and the worst of times" because "volunteerism isn't free. Someone knowledgeable about the organization needs to screen, match, orient, train, supervise and engage them. It takes a staff member to do all of the above activities, a database to keep track of people and tasks."

Has your organization thought about how you might be able to tap into this huge pool of potential volunteers? To better understand this group, have a look at the articles and blog posts on Baby Boomer volunteers below. If you are already being inundated with Boomer volunteers and are scrambling to fit them into existing volunteer positions, take a look at the resources available through Volunteer Canada (such as this WorkBook) and the WildApricot blog posts below for ideas on volunteer engagement and management.

Be sure to share any tips or examples of how you've engaged Boomer volunteers in your organization in the comments section below.


Read More - about Volunteer Management in other WildApricot Blog posts:

Want more? Here is a round-up of blog posts and articles about Boomer Volunteers:

The Membership Growth Report:

Benchmarks & Insights for Growing Revenue and Constituents

Get the report now!

Sorry, this blog post is closed for further comments.


  • Joanne Fritz:

    Lori, what a great post!  Thanks for including my article too. Boomers are popular again....

  • Lily Serreau (Philanthropie Québec):

    I read an article on Jobboom (january 2011) today saying that 15-24 years old were more active as volunteers that 65 and more in Qebec. They are 58% comparing to 36% for 65+. We speak a lot about baby boomers but

  • Jessica Journey:

    Love the post!  Your blog is packed with great info.

    I also think nonprofits should leverage boomers as volunteers:

    I think they could make an amazing impact!

  • Lori Halley

    Lori Halley:

    Joanne & Jessica:  Glad you liked the post. I agree that Boomers have a lot to offer as volunteers.

    Lily: According to the Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating - - in Canada, 15-19 year olds have the highest volunteer rate (65%), but 47 to 75 year olds actually “contribute the greatest number of average annual volunteer hours.”

  • Shari Ilsen:

    Great post, thanks! Some excellent guidelines for engaging Boomers, who have such an incredible potential for volunteer leadership.

    At VolunteerMatch, we've focused on Boomer engagement for the past few years, and have some great resources for nonprofits looking to do more with this age group:

    Boomer Volunteer Engagement books, from Jill Friedman Fixler and VolunteerMatch:

    Boomer Engagement Webinars:

  • Lori Halley

    Lori Halley:

    Shari - thanks for letting us know about the Boomer Volunteer books.  If your webinars are free and designed for non-profits, let us know if you want them included in our monthly Non-profit Webinar round-up.

  • Shari Ilsen:

    hi Lori,

    Yes, all of our webinars are free and designed to address nonprofits' volunteer engagement needs. You can see them all by clicking on my name above. We'd love to be included in your monthly round-up - I follow it religiously to learn about great educational resources!

  • Katie:

    Great post!  The Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration has also been offering trainings and resources on boomer volunteers.  Check out our best practices for working with boomers and new generations of volunteers at


About results ( seconds) Sort by: 
Sorry, an error occured when performing search.