5 Tips for Engaging Boomer Volunteers

Jan 21, 2015

“We are a generation that understands the power of rallying around a cause we believe in to make a difference in the world. Join us and see how great it feels to change the world again.”

healthy_tot_for_blog.jpgBoomers Leading Change in Health volunteer Phyllis Hanfling, left, teaches a “Healthy Tots” class for refugee parents and children at Spring Institute for Intercultural Learning in Denver.

That’s the call to action a Denver-based nonprofit, Boomers Leading Change in Health, uses to recruit volunteers over 50 to serve as patient navigators, health policy advocates and community health workers.

The pitch appeals to boomers’ sense of nostalgia, belonging, individual and collective power, and generational pride. That’s a lot to squeeze into 36 words – and underscores just how much the relatively young nonprofit knows about its older audience.

The demographic is a critical one in Denver – where boomers make up about one-third of the metro population today – and across the nation, where by 2030 one in four Americans will be over 60.

At a recent conference sponsored by Encore.org – a nonprofit encouraging second acts for the greater good – Barbara Raynor, managing director of Boomers Leading Change in Health, provided these tips for engaging boomer volunteers.

julie_rotenberg_playing_body_part_bingo_for_blog.jpgBoomers Leading Change in Health AmeriCorps Encore Member Julie Rotenberg, center, uses “Body Part Bingo” to teach refugees how to communicate their health care needs.

Be flexible. “They don’t call us the sandwich generation for nothing,” Raynor says. Boomers are engaged in jobs (including searching for jobs), kids, taking care of parents, grandchildren and travel, which can make committing to volunteering somewhat challenging. “But,” she adds, “as long as they feel what they’re trying to do is worthwhile, they’ll be there.” Provide as many options as you can to allow boomers to find a volunteer pattern that fits their lives and their work styles.

Be patient. “Just because they sign up to volunteer doesn’t mean it’s the right time for them,” Raynor says. Other things come up; it’s just life. “Don’t give up on them,” she said. “Stay in touch. They know when the time is right, and they take their volunteer commitments very seriously.”

Give them opportunities to learn. “Boomers are not afraid of training, especially if they can benefit from it personally,” Raynor asserts. “They enjoy it and value it, and they use it.”

Provide a professional experience. Boomers take the commitment to volunteer seriously. “Many come dressed for a job interview,” Raynor says, “and they expect professionalism from us.” That means being prepared, respecting people’s time and experience, and being clear about expectations and responsibilities.

Capitalize on boomers’ experience. Are boomers demanding? “Not true,” Raynor says. “They’re highly skilled. They bring expertise and with that comes knowledge, wisdom, insight and ideas. Capitalize on that. Look at it as an asset, rather than as a challenge.”

Use boomers as problem-solvers, Raynor adds. “These are volunteers with life experience. Don’t be surprised if they come up with solutions to problems you didn’t know existed.”

Got a tip you’d like to add to the list? Send it to [email protected].