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:"
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Implement New or Optimize Your Existing Membership Management Software:
Online volunteer management software, like Wild Apricot'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 Wild Apricot'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, Wild Apricot 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
In a recent blog post, "6 Tips for Nonprofits About How to Reach Baby Boomers as They Turn 65," Joanne Fritz (About.com 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 Wild Apricot 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 past Wild Apricot Blog posts:
Want more? Here is a round-up of blog posts and articles about Boomer Volunteers: