Baby Boomers – Living Longer and Healthier Lives

August 10, 2015   |   NO COMMENTS

We Baby Boomers are the luckiest generation ever!  We are living longer and healthier lives than our parents and grandparents.  For the first time, we are a generation of retirees that has the leisure and the means to give back, and we are doing just that. It’s often assumed that volunteerism needs to wait until actual retirement, but Baby Boomers still in the workforce are very likely to volunteer in their communities.  This sets the stage for later volunteer engagement.  According to the Corporation of National and Community Service, the number of volunteers aged 65 and older will increase 50% by 2020, from just under 9 million in 2007 to over 13 million.  The lessons learned from our activist youth motivate us to keep making a difference within our home towns and across the world.

As we approach retirement, it is common (and smart!) to consider our encore careers–what’s next? The first thought is often the next paid career, and that’s just fine.  Sometimes, though, thinking about what’s next is an internal conversation about what is meaningful to you.  That conversation quite naturally turns to thoughts about working on behalf of a cherished cause or organization.  One of my friends lost a job through a corporate downsizing.  She immediately immersed herself in job skills and assessment classes, looking for that next professional gig. After much thought, she realized that she didn’t miss corporate life one bit and what really appealed to her was making a positive difference in her community.  She began working as an office volunteer for Habitat for Humanity.  After several years, she has immersed herself in multiple projects from special events to managing the Habitat Restore resale shops. She has received accolades and public recognition as the “face” of local Habitat volunteers. Listening to her talk about her work is an inspiration.

Baby Boomers are very desirable volunteers–nonprofits should be courting us.  We are educated, have a wealth of organizational experience, and we are beginning to retire by the millions!  Nonprofits need to start thinking more broadly about the opportunities they make available, and how to best take advantage of our skills and abilities.  Volunteerism need not be a 9-5 daily commitment.  Some volunteer jobs may not even be onsite, needing just a computer and some social media savvy. The opportunities do need to be challenging and personally rewarding.  As my friend experienced at Habitat, we are energized by increasing responsibility and professional growth.  In a study by Hart Research Associates, Inc., some key findings stand out:

  • Among non-volunteers 55+, two in five don’t volunteer because they haven’t found the right opportunity.
  • A majority of respondents prefer opportunities that make use of their personal or professional skills.
  • 53% of respondents 55+ expect to volunteer more in the next few years.

That’s a lot of good news!  Nonprofits want us, and we want extraordinary experiences that fit our lifestyles. So where do we go from here?  Sometimes, the perfect opportunity simply appears. It’s an organization you’ve belonged to for years, there’s a volunteer job posted on their website and–boom–you are all set. A close friend retired from her library job and slid right back into her former workplace as a volunteer.  She loves the continuity of her work relationships but with less stress and more free time.  

Her advice:  “If you are newly retired and enjoyed what you did in your career, see if you can serve in a volunteer capacity. A few hours a week may be just enough. And if you take on new roles it could lead to a new career if that’s what you want.”

Sometimes finding the right volunteer career is not simple or self-evident. It’s time to apply some critical thinking skills to your job search!  Put it on paper, and give yourself time to reflect.  Make a list of your volunteer dream jobs.  No dream is too big or too small here.  Even if none of these turn out to be “the one”, it will give you insight into your search path. Now, make a list of the skills you bring to an organization, along with an honest look at any limitations.  This should include your time available and your geographic boundaries.  If you want to tutor one day a week, a six month teaching stint in South America is probably not a match–for now.  Circumstances do change, so stay open to opportunities.

With your lists of dream jobs, your skills and lifestyle “truths”, it’s time to look for commonalities and thinking about making the most of your community connections.  What opportunities are right there in your own neighborhood or city?  Talk to friends, neighbors and social contacts, just as you would in a paid job search.  Cast your net wide!

If your local contacts don’t provide the right answers, there are many online options to explore. These sites can introduce you to volunteer jobs you’ve never heard of, and some of them walk you through the list making and assessment process.  Here are just a few:

Now is the time to follow your passions– either a new one or a return to that simmering desire you’ve been ignoring while you raised a family, established a career and did so many other things.  The competition for your time and talent can be overwhelming.  It’s time to trust your instincts, but also time to allow yourself to try something completely new, perhaps even a little scary.  If it is the right experience for you, you’ll know.  If not, it is more information for you to use in finding your perfect next adventure.

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