It’s no secret that boomers care about the world we live in. They recycle. They educate. They volunteer.
But how much they volunteer, and whether that will increase, has been the subject of great debate and speculation in recent months.
Some say that retiring boomers are too active and busy starting businesses, caring for aging parents, and exercising for better health to take time out to volunteer extensively.
Others say that boomers will respond to volunteer opportunities in increasing numbers, especially as more time opens up in the retirement years.
What do the experts say?
In December of 2005, at the White House Conference on Aging, the Corporation for National and Community Service kicked off its Get Involved promotional campaign to help convince 77 million boomers to meet community needs through volunteer service.
At that time, 33.2% of all boomers (25.8 million people) had volunteered for formal organizations during 2005, representing the highest rate of volunteering of any age group (and standing more than four percentage points above the national average of 29%).
The theory then was that as boomers begin to retire and have more free time, this percentage can only increase.
- Boomers will increase volunteering by older adults some 50 percent by 2020 -- and double the number of older adult volunteers by the year 2036.
- Boomers want higher-skill assignments to keep them engaged.
- Boomers who volunteer 12 weeks or more annually are most likely to serve year after year.
- The number of older Americans will continue to rise sharply for decades since the youngest boomers will not reach age 65 until 2029.
- Three out of every 10 boomers who volunteer today leave their organizations each year.
- Boomers' relatively high volunteer rate today is tied to their education level and propensity to have children later in life. Previous studies have found education and having children are two key predictors of volunteer levels, which accounts in part for the fact that the volunteer rate for baby boomers is peaking later in life than past generations.
- Mid-life adults (age 45-64) are three times as likely to have a four-year college degree today as they were 15 years ago (from 11.5 percent to 29.5 percent). Once their children leave home, boomers could maintain relatively high volunteer rates because of their higher education levels, expectations that they will work later in life than previous generations, and good health.
"The boomer wave signals one of the largest opportunities the nonprofit sector has ever had to expand its pool of resources," said David Eisner, CEO of the Corporation. "Only the nonprofits that retool their ability to engage citizens will reap that reward."
But how do struggling non-profits retain good volunteers?
- Baby boomer volunteers who engage in professional activities – such as managing people or projects – continue volunteering the following year. Approximately 75% of boomer volunteers want more challenging and stimulating roles, usually reflective of the more professional skill set they bring to the table.
Volunteers who are relegated to general labor or who provide transportation services, for example, regularly drop out of volunteering with only 55.6 percent continuing to volunteer the next year.
- Activities with the second and third highest volunteer retention rates were music (or some other type of performance) and tutoring, mentoring and coaching.
- The more often boomers volunteer, the more likely they are to volunteer again. Volunteers who serve 12 or more weeks per year have a volunteer retention rate of 79 percent, versus 53 percent for those who serve two or fewer weeks per year.
- Boomers who work are boomers who volunteer. The report found that remaining in the workforce increases the likelihood that a boomer will continue to volunteer
- Boomers who increase their work hours are slightly more likely to continue volunteering compared to those who decrease their work hours (71.6 percent vs. 68.4 percent). If many boomers retire later and work longer than past generations (working into their 70s), as some studies indicate, that trend could actually translate into a larger number of older American volunteers.
"The baby boom generation gives our nation an unprecedented opportunity to increase the breadth and the scope of volunteering," said Robert T. Grimm, Jr., Director of the Corporation's Office of Research and Policy Development. "If we use the right approach, this population will continue their service and change the face of volunteering in America."
Retention methods that work: cultivation and development
Grimm says nonprofits should use charitable and human resources retention models. In other words:
- Cultivate volunteers the way you would cultivate a donor.
- Provide professional development just as you do for your staff.
In addition, you can improve your boomer volunteer retention with a thorough analysis of your current volunteers:
- How many are boomers?
- What is your rate of retention?
- Do you perform volunteer exit interviews, so as to identify the reason volunteers are leaving?
- What can you shift in your volunteer training and management to get greater boomer buy-in?
Boomers are too valuable to pass up. But recruiting and retaining them may be a bit more complicated than we at first thought. Smart analysis and strategic implementation will put your nonprofit ahead in the competition for boomer volunteers.
Jennifer Kalita is a leading PR consultant, writer, speaker, and strategist. Visit her company web site at www.thekalitagroup.com.