By Donna Lockhart
Partner with RETHINK Inc., the Ontario arm of Canada’s RETHINK GROUP
Not long ago, I was putting together some workshops on engaging baby boomer volunteers, when I came across Volunteer Canada’s Volunteering and Older Adults report. I found the report to be an informative and reliable resource, and I ended up using it in conjunction with several other resources to further develop my workshops.
One of the things that interested me the most about the report was the volunteering rate among older adults: “the volunteer rate of those over age of 65 has increased (between 2000 and 2007), while the average number of hours has gradually decreased... this might be explained by the growing interest and support for volunteering within society...” (p. 8).
Personally, I have certainly noticed a growing interest in community engagement among my peers, in doing good and having an impact. My retired colleagues say they don’t miss the work, but rather the people they worked with. As boomers retire or semi-retire, volunteering becomes attractive as a means of staying socially active. So I asked myself, “Is volunteerism appearing on the radar of those who did not actively volunteer earlier in their lives?”
The second part of the above statement, referencing the decreasing average number of volunteered hours, is equally important. While more people are volunteering, they’re giving less time. Is this a reflection of the competition for time in retirement, and the need for boomers to find balance along with ‘time for self’?
After speaking with many of my retired friends about their volunteering, I’ve noticed a few trends. The women tend to want time off to get their homes in order and take some time for themselves. Having spent much of their lives working full time, they need to rejuvenate themselves, finding newfound balance thanks to less busy schedules. They carve out a larger role for themselves in their grandchildrens’ lives.
Is this a reflection of these people wanting the reverse of what their work lives provided them? Do they want true control over each and every moment of their time? Retirement is an opportunity for reflection: what do I want to do with the last quarter of my life? Where do I want to focus my time and energy? Boomers seem ready to take the time to sort this out.
Here’s an example that illustrates this new reality and the challenges organizations face because of it: A friend of mine once volunteered to become a driver, and had to wait eight weeks to go through the entire screening process. By the end, he was very irritated with the system, particularly since the agency did not explain why he needed to undergo screening and why it was such a lengthy process. Fast-forward six months, his record came up clean but he had yet to be called. His response: “I guess they don’t really need drivers, so this was a waste of time.” So, he went to a different agency and offered his fund development skills. The Manager of Volunteers brought in the CEO to the introductory meeting, and the friend was thrilled and honoured to finally be taken seriously.
There have been many changes and shifts in the volunteering landscape over the past ten years, but many organizations still do not “get it.” A huge gap continues to exist between what is being offered, how volunteers are being perceived, what volunteers really want to do, and to what lengths volunteers will go to find the right fit.
And so, it’s incredibly important that organizations like Volunteer Canada continue to create resources to encourage Canadians to get involved in their communities, but also support all types of organizations in their work to engage today’s volunteers.