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Adapt Your Volunteer Program

There are nearly 12.5 million volunteers in Canada. While that number may seem quite high, a small percentage of Canadians are carrying most of the load…and many of them are already in their seventies. As they step down and retire from their volunteer careers an enormous gap in volunteer contribution will occur, and a whole new generation of volunteers will be needed to fill their places – in new and varied ways.

Enter the baby boomers. There are 11 million Canadians in their forties, fifties or sixties and at a point in their lives where many seek new ways to connect to others and contribute to their communities.

You may be a baby boomer yourself. If so, you bring that valuable perspective to your work. Or, you may be younger and need to learn more about this large and influential demographic so that the work you do with baby boomer volunteers will be a good experience for them and will be effective for your organization.

Your organization’s ability to meet its mission might just depend on whether or not you can attract – and keep – baby boomers as volunteers. Voluntary organizations will need to be open to rethinking and restructuring the way they do business. Strategic volunteer management in the competitive new millennium means making changes in all aspects of your organization and requires the participation of everyone – from front line staff to the CEO – and even buy-in from your Board of Directors.

This introductory workbook is for the people who manage and work with volunteers in Canada’s 161,000 non-profit community organizations, charities, service clubs, foundations and aid agencies. You’ll find strategies and information about restructuring and rethinking your approach to volunteers in order to successfully recruit and retain this potential group of key volunteers. In addition, you’ll find a selection of exercises to help you reflect on how your organization can tap into the energy and expertise of baby boomer volunteers.

Consider the facts:

  • Voluntary organizations are more or less dependent on volunteers to get their work done.
  • Canadian volunteers contributed over two billion volunteer hours to organizations in 2007 – the equivalent of one million full-time jobs.
  • Every year, over 12.5 million volunteers give their time, energy and skills to make our communities better.
  • There is a soft decline of 1-2% per year in volunteering in Canada. A small percentage of Canadians are carrying most of the load, and many of them are already in their seventies.
  • As older volunteers step down and become fewer in number, a whole new generation of volunteers needs to fill their places – in new and varied ways.
  • In 2008, a baby boomer turned 50 every seven seconds.
  • Three out of ten baby boomers who volunteer do not return for a second year. 20% of these lost volunteers are never replaced.

Rethink And Restructure How You Work

Job design is the key to success

When baby boomers volunteer, they want mission-linked, productive, satisfying work that allows them to use their skills and experience. They want short-term work, flexible schedules at convenient locations, including opportunities to volunteer online. To effectively engage baby boomers as volunteers, your organization must think about volunteer roles and responsibilities differently and adapt to meet their needs while meeting the needs of your organization.

Job design, a theory used widely in the for-profit sector, is also an effective approach for non-profit organizations. It involves all the creative human resource strategies including job-sharing, flex time, telecommuting, job rotation and part-time work – all options that will appeal to baby boomers.

A resource by Volunteer Canada, called A Matter of Design–Job Design Theory and Application to the Voluntary Sector, explains that job design refers to the way tasks are combined to form complete jobs.

When you apply this kind of approach, you design jobs and positions that are meaningful to your organization and challenging to your baby boomer volunteers while making good use of their skills. The Community Action Programs of Halifax has developed an online tool to help organizations focus on job design including strategic questions to help you through the process.

Integrate volunteer roles into your total human resource strategy

Job design is part of an integrated human resource strategy – a planned approach to identifying the work functions (both paid and unpaid) that your organization needs to achieve its mission. Volunteer Calgary piloted a project to recruit and involve high-skilled or professionally skilled individuals in voluntary organizations with the goal to provide meaning to the volunteers and capacity for the organizations. The project identified five important lessons learned:

  1. Essential Strategic Leadership – The Executive Director must champion a culture and structure that supports the full integration of high skills volunteers.
  2. Role and Place of the Manager of Volunteers – Organizations need a staff Manager of Volunteers who is a member of the management team.
  3. Professionally Managed Volunteer Programs require an alignment of systems, policies and processes for paid and unpaid staff.
  4. Valuing Volunteers – Volunteers and staff need to understand the “value” that volunteers contribute to the organization to overcome the outdated perceptions of “I am/you are just a volunteer.”
  5. Readiness for an integrated human resource strategy approach – To succeed, this approach needs to be integrated with the organization’s strategic plan.