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Is Your Organization Ready for "The Boom"?

The "boom" years of 1946 to 1964 boosted the country's population by 77 million citizens. The baby boomers have shaped our culture, from their political activism in the 1960s to their business savvy in the 1980s and beyond. Presently we see the leading edge of the boomers hitting retirement age. Consider these statistics:

  • In January 2006, the first boomers began turning 60, with an average life expectancy of 83.
  • Members of the boomer demographic make up one-quarter of the American population, the largest cohort in U.S. history.
  • Every minute three boomers turn 50, while another six turn 60.
Even—and perhaps especially—as they approach retirement, baby boomers will continue to have a significant impact on society. Although they will leave huge holes in the workforce, all indications are that this group will still be motivated to contribute to their communities, often in the form of volunteerism.

But are organizations ready for the boomers? Currently most nonprofits are unprepared to accommodate the sheer volume of potential volunteers. In addition, baby boomers boast a large number of well-educated, highly skilled executives, entrepreneurs, and leaders, many of whom will feel that their talents are not being put to use in low-level volunteer positions. Research indicates that these boomers should be placed at programming levels to utilize their abilities fully and to keep them engaged. Achieving this goal will require some agencies to rethink their volunteer management, perhaps resisting the urge to fill unskilled positions with volunteers who clearly want and can contribute at a higher level.

Barbara Weiderecht of the Volunteer Center of Bergen County, New Jersey, sums up the current situation: "Today's older volunteers do not want to be thought of as just office help or envelope stuffers, and are increasingly turning down all such opportunities. Yet when this is addressed with many of the agencies where we place volunteers, they do not understand nor do they want to hear it. 'What do they expect? They're only volunteers,' is a frequent reply. That attitude is deadly for attracting volunteers."

Thankfully, organizations are beginning to change their views, tapping into the wealth of knowledge the boomers bring with them. Retirees are being placed as volunteers in key areas such as strategic planning, program development, information technology, and training/education.

Aside from matching skill level, studies also provide other key recommendations for attracting and retaining baby boomer volunteers:

  • Market your agency's purpose. State your mission clearly and articulate the ways in which you seek to attain your goal.
  • Consider volunteers as part of the organization's regular workforce.
  • Provide a variety of volunteer tenures. Some volunteers may want to complete a one-time project, whereas others may want to commit to a regular schedule.
  • Provide incentives, such as social interaction, advancement opportunities, and public recognition.
  • Ensure that volunteers are well trained, organized, and managed. Baby boomers want to see that their time and skills are being used effectively and efficiently.
Although accommodating, attracting, and retaining baby boomer volunteers may initially require reorganizing and rethinking current systems, these investments will reap huge rewards. If organizations will allow it, the generation that took social activism and industry to new heights will do the same for volunteerism.

Christine Litch, VolunteerHub
© 2007, VolunteerHub

Christine Litch works for VolunteerHub, an on-line service providing event, event registration, and volunteer workforce management since 1996. Today VolunteerHub connects people and purposes for a variety of nonprofit, educational, and commercial organizations.
Topics: Nonprofit Leadership and Practice