Baby Boomer Volunteers

Posted on March 10, 2015

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Written by Kiki Setterlund

I think about volunteers. A lot. As a Crew & Volunteer Coordinator for the Susan G. Komen Twin Cities 3-Day, it’s my job to recruit, organize, train and work alongside roughly 300 – 400 volunteers at any given time to put on a successful event. As I work on volunteer recruitment for the 2015 season, I’ve been thinking about how to engage a particular segment of people — the baby boomer generation.

In 2013, the first members of this generation started enrolling in Medicare and in 2014 the last boomers turned 50. Together they represent a gigantic cohort of experienced and talented people moving into or toward retirement with enormous potential (and desire) to give back to their communities.

To get an idea of what boomer volunteers have to offer, what challenges they present to volunteer managers and how to keep them engaged, I posed a few questions to my personal favorite connection in the aging world (and also my husband) Seth Boffeli with AARP Minnesota.

What opportunities do boomer volunteers present for organizations like AARP and Event 360?

The volunteer pool that exists in America today is immense, especially for organizations with the flexibility and willingness to change the landscape. Boomers are retiring with experience, longevity and a desire to stay engaged, but they want to do so on their own terms.

Unlike their parents and grandparents, boomers aren’t looking to move to Florida and play golf. They will live longer, stay local and contribute more to their communities than any generation before. Cottage industries are being created around “re-careering” and community education programs are scrambling to find programming for retirees and near retirees who aren’t eager to join the local senior center.

For non-profits, boomer retirees could mean a large wave of experienced, qualified, professional volunteers with energy, drive and an unprecedented commitment to community. The trick is offering them the right opportunity.

So what are the challenges when recruiting boomer volunteers?

Based on their sheer numbers, it is easy to look at boomers and imagine a seemingly endless pool of volunteers, but boomers are not your typical volunteers.

Above all else, boomers are non-conformists. At every stage of life they have defied stereotypes and created their own experience. While no longer the largest demographic cohort (way to go millennials!) they are still the A-list guest that everyone wants at the party.

Boomers are sought after by advertisers, corporations, Hollywood and non-profits alike. Because of this – and many other reasons – they can be picky.

Another challenge is many people in their 50’s and 60’s are taking care of their parents or spouses and some still have kids at home or in college. Caregiving is an increasingly hard challenge that many boomers are starting to face. The tasks associated are difficult, emotional and at times overwhelming. So just because a potential volunteer is an empty nester doesn’t mean they won’t have serious family obligations that can limit their availability.

What is the key to attracting, working with and retaining boomer volunteers?

For organizations like AARP or Event 360, attracting boomer volunteers is not guaranteed. It is a competitive world out there filled with countless ways for them to spend their newly found free time. To attract boomers you need to offer unique opportunities, responsibility and respect. Event 360 is known for creating events that challenge participants and that same mindset could be successful when approaching volunteers.

Asking volunteers to be partners and leaders can be a key to success. The people you wish to recruit are leaders. They have run companies, guided teams, raised money and run businesses and just because they have retired, doesn’t mean they no longer thrive on challenges. Bringing boomers in, giving them a chance to learn and eventually giving them a chance to drive could be the key to unlocking this vast pool of potential volunteers.

I realize that attracting Boomer volunteers is more difficult for Event 360 than it is for an organization like AARP. Seth’s office serves more than 650,000 members in Minnesota alone and half of them are under the age of 65. He can email, mail or call tens-of-thousands of boomers at will.

To me, this insight is very helpful because it allows me to identify the ways that Event 360 already uses volunteers that is different from your typical volunteer driven organization. We do offer leadership opportunities, we do ask volunteers to manage other volunteers and we do challenge them. However, there are opportunities to empower them even more – especially in the planning and outreach process.

We don’t have to look at the event itself as the only time we need volunteers, we do have the opportunity to use boomers, and all volunteers, to strengthen our planning and preparation process as well as our events.

Kiki Setterlund works on Event 360’s Volunteer Team and is based in the Twin Cities. She has 15 years of event planning experience with more than a dozen non-profit organizations.

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