Being fifty-something, I’ve volunteered in various ways through board memberships, community groups, Guide Dog puppy raising and more. The experience that touched me most was volunteering for BlazeAid last year.
It got me curious about how volunteering differs for fifty-somethings and whether there’s a shift in how volunteering models are being shaped to appeal more to the ready-and-willing, ultra-mobile critical mass of baby boomers and neo-retirees.
As happenstance would have it, I was presented with an opportunity to “pick the brain” of an expert in the field …
Today is International Volunteer Day (IVD), mandated by the United Nations as a day for volunteers and volunteer based organisations to celebrate their efforts, share their values and showcase the difference they make in their communities.
It’s also the launch day (in Adelaide, South Australia) for a new book Positive Ageing: Think Volunteering which brings together a breadth of research about the relationship between ageing successfully and volunteering.
Professor Jeni Warburton (John Richards Chair in Rural Aged Care Research at La Trobe University) is a contributing expert to Positive Ageing: Think Volunteering. Ahead of the book’s launch, Jeni agreed to answer my questions about what baby boomer volunteers want.
“Flexibility and respect are very important,” she said. “Much of my own research focuses on older people volunteering.”
“We conducted one large mixed methods study with National Seniors participants – baby boomers age group.”
“It is projected that this group will be more demanding in their volunteer roles in retirement – in this cohort, women have had paid work experience, some may still be working full or part time, and there are generally higher education levels etc, which will all impact on their choices and decisions in later life. This is consistent with a body of research from the USA on baby boomers.”
“Both concepts – flexibility and respect – highlight that older people, and baby boomers in particular, are looking for a positive volunteer experience that meets their needs, and not based on a stereotype of what others think older people might want.”
Nobody puts baby boomers in the corner. And baby boomer volunteers are no different.
“A diversity of opportunities being available is critical,” Jeni explained. “In my research, we found examples whereby baby boomers said that there were expectations of what others thought they should do – often traditional roles and routine time frames – but the reality, from our research, is that instead older people are wanting to do a broad range of activities – some want to learn new skills, others want to build on existing interests.”
“I remember one woman expressing amazement that volunteering could include writing her local history, not just community services.”
“In particular, older people do not necessarily want to volunteer for other older people – they may – but many are seeking intergenerational opportunities. In this sense, motives and interests are critical if people are going to commit to volunteering.”
“The other aspect – flexibility – is also important and comes down to respect as well.”
“Many older people tell us that they don’t want to be locked into regular volunteer roles. This is particularly the case for baby boomers. They may have family interstate or want to travel overseas. They are looking for flexible time commitments, maybe a short term project.”
Indications are that baby boomers are more mobile, more cashed up, fitter and more available (given their longer retirement stage) than their predecessors. So why would we expect to be attracted to the same old models of volunteering?
“Our argument from this body of work is that agencies need to look at what people want and see if they can work with them to meet their needs. Horses for courses comes to mind,” Jeni said.
Keen to learn/read more?
Positive Ageing: Think Volunteering (launching today) is edited by Louise Rogers and Joy Noble, published by Volunteering SA&NT and “contains the personal stories of a range of volunteers, and provides a snapshot of major organisations and the opportunities they offer the discerning older Australian, keen to face ageing with a positive attitude”.
You can purchase a copy (AUD$24.99 + postage) by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org