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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.

Design A Schedule That Works

Short term (episodic) or a regular commitment?
Volunteering doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Between work, children, aging parents, homes, hobbies, friends, appointments, and other commitments, you may not think you have much time left over. But your involvement can be as much-or as little time as you have.

You can volunteer sporadically, to help out at a special event, or on an on-going basis, for one day a week or a few days a year.

If you go away on holidays, your volunteer work can be put on hold or shared with another volunteer.

Front line help or behind-the-scenes support?
You can join your local community clean-up or lead the development the funding proposal.

Volunteering from home or out in the community?
Virtual volunteering can be done from home through Internet sites that link volunteers with recipients. You could connect to kids who need homework help or people who need a life coach.

Whatever you choose, be realistic about your commitment
Organizations can accommodate your interests and your time frame, no matter how little or how much you can do– but they do need you to show up when you say you will. The people they serve count on you.

Why Do Baby Boomers Volunteer?

Research indicates four main reasons why baby boomers volunteer. They want to:

  1. Support a cause that they believe in.
  2. Make a contribution to society.
  3. Share their skills.
  4. Do something meaningful with their friends and colleagues.

More importantly, baby boomers want to volunteer on their own terms. Consider some of the challenges that baby boomers face:

They don’t have enough time.

  • Theirs is known as a sandwich generation – caring for children and aging parents simultaneously leaves less free time.

They don’t have time during traditional work hours.

  • Many baby boomers work full-time and many work past the traditional retirement age of 65. Unless their employers have a corporate volunteering program, these volunteers can’t always be available when you need them.

They don’t identify with traditional images of volunteers.

  • The clichéd image of a kindly white-haired volunteer clashes with the way baby boomers see themselves – more youthful and dynamic than their parents.

They don’t want to do routine or menial volunteer tasks.

  • With less free time, many of today’s volunteers expect challenging and meaningful work that reflects their skills and experience.

Who Are Canada’s Baby Boomers?

Canada’s baby boomers are members of a diverse group born between 1946 and 1964. Some still cope with teenagers at home, others pay university tuition fees, some care for aging parents while still others enjoy their grandchildren. Some baby boomers work full-time, some part-time, while others contemplate retirement or are already retired. Their interests and aspirations are as diverse as they are. They are always looking for new experiences, challenges and how to make a difference. Baby boomers want to stay active in mind and body, make connections and continue to learn.

Because of their sheer numbers, baby boomers influence and redefine every stage of their lives. Volunteering will be no different.

Retaining Your Baby Boomer Volunteers

Once you’ve succeeded in recruiting baby boomer volunteers for your organization, it is important to keep them active and engaged. Some of the same approaches and incentives used to retain your employees can be used to retain your volunteers.

Why baby boomers stop volunteering How to keep them engaged
The expectations weren’t clear. Set up clear orientation processes:

  • Be ready – Once volunteers arrive, don’t keep them waiting.
  • Make volunteers feel welcome – When you first meet your volunteers, offer a tour of the office or event area, make coffee or water available and don’t hold back your enthusiasm.
  • Introduce volunteers to other staff members – Avoid any potential tension between volunteers and staff positions by being clear about roles and responsibilities.
  • Set expectations – Be clear with your volunteers about what is expected of them. Tell them what you need accomplished and act as a resource should they have questions or concerns.
  • Provide enough training – Take time to give them the tools they need to do their volunteer work, including clear guidelines.
They don’t have time.
  • Design episodic volunteer opportunities – Offer flexible schedules, where possible.
  • Make it easy for them – Offer parking permits, bus fare, and schedules that don’t conflict with commuter traffic or meal times.
They don’t feel appreciated.
  • Thank them – Congratulate your volunteers on a job well done. Do it often.
  • Check in – Periodically ask them how comfortable they are with their level of duties.
  • Recognize volunteers who show greater interest by promoting them to positions of greater responsibility.
  • Make it a rewarding experience – Let people know they’re important. Offer perks such as lunch on a long day, or host volunteer appreciation activities.
  • Find out what recognition means to your volunteers – not everyone feels recognized in the same way.
The organization doesn’t “walk its talk.”
  • Actions speak volumes – Be the professional, well-run organization they believe you to be.
  • Remember that for baby boomers, feeling purposeful is key – The more engaged they are, the more likely they are to continue volunteering.
  • Respect their commitment to your cause – Treat them as partners, not subordinates.

Volunteering – Your Way

Whatever your interests may be, you can make a valuable contribution as a volunteer, in lots of different ways.

Four Main Reasons to Volunteer

  1. Make a contribution to society.
  2. Share your skills.
  3. Support a cause.
  4. Do something meaningful with your friends and colleagues.

One of these reasons probably makes sense for you. You may already be working as a volunteer or are thinking about what you might want to do next. Whatever your reason, there are many different opportunities out there-and organizations that need your help.

Finding the right volunteer opportunity can be like finding the right job fit–and it can change, just like a job can.

Does this sound like you?

You know what matters to you and where you want to contribute

Do you? You could…
Have experience in marketing? Help an organization plan their public relations campaign.
Drive a bus? Renew that license and take a hockey team to a tournament.
Know how to fundraise? Help an organization apply for grants or tap into corporate donors.
Have financial or IT expertise? Join a board of directors or design a website.
Like to be outdoors? Walk a dog at your local Humane Society.

You aren’t sure how you want to contribute and might want to try something new

You might want to think about ways to:
Connect to a cause that matters to you.
Respond to a need in your community.
Make an inventory of your skills and experience and match them to opportunities.
Join your friends and family on their favorite projects, or bring a friend to one of yours.