Baby Boomers and Service: Understanding Their World

May 27, 2011

by Jill Friedman Fixler, NCVS Speaker

For quite a few years now, those in the nonprofit and service sectors have been awaiting—either with eagerness or trepidation!—the wave of Baby Boomers approaching traditional retirement age.

With Greatest and Silent Generation volunteers aging out of their traditional volunteer roles, would our organizations be deserted while Baby Boomers made other choices about how to spend their time?

Or, would a sea of Boomers line up to volunteer with our organizations?

If so, could we engage them as we have engaged volunteers for decades before?

Now that we are quite a few years into this long anticipated generational shift, it’s a great time to step and check in on our own expectations, experiences, and the actual trends out there.

Here, along with excerpts from our book Boomer Volunteer Engagement: Collaborate Today, Thrive Tomorrow, is some of things we see in our practice, hear from discussions with colleagues, and learn from our own experiences as well.

Leaders of volunteers who adhere to the traditional volunteer management model often think that Boomers are uninterested in volunteering because they reject traditional volunteer roles.

In fact, most Boomers drop out of their volunteer assignments only when their expectations for volunteering do not correlate with the reality of the volunteer workplace.

Boomers who have served as leaders of industry are rarely interested in low impact volunteer positions.

Boomers who grew up with flextime in the workplace expect and prefer flexible volunteer schedules that few nonprofits offer.

Boomers whose careers were marked by unprecedented mobility expect a veritable buffet of volunteer options.

Even today, after all the talk and research and tools available on Boomer volunteer engagement, we see that large numbers of nonprofit leaders still believe their organizations are ready to engage Boomers, and equally large numbers of Boomers say that nonprofits are operating in ways that discourage them from volunteering.

Boomers have a multitude of choices on how to spend what their parents called the leisure years. Volunteering is but one option.

According to the think tank Civic Ventures, Boomers are redefining the second half of life as a source of social and individual renewal. They see it as a new adventure–a time to travel, take classes, and, if the nonprofit sector is lucky, to serve a higher purpose and create what Civic Ventures calls a “social legacy”.

Nearly 30% of Boomers will seek avocational and vocational opportunities within the nonprofit sector in either encore careers or volunteers settings according to research done by the Rose Community Foundation and

Boomers in their late 40s and 50s are volunteering at higher rates than members of the Greatest and Silent Generations did at the same age, according to the Corporation for National & Community Service’s report Keeping Baby Boomers Volunteering.

The 78.2 million Baby Boomers are a virtual gold mine for nonprofit organizations as the first Boomers turned 65 on January 1, 2011 to the tune of 7,000 a day.

A social revolution—possibly as important as the one led by Boomers in the 1960s—will occur if nonprofits strategically engage Boomers in high-impact collaborations that build a nonprofit’s capacity to fulfill vision and mission.

It takes more than a few new strategies and examples to engage Boomers as volunteers.

It takes reimagining the role of volunteers in an organization and the possible results of involving volunteers in every aspect of operations.

It takes a new philosophy and organizational buy-in for top to bottom and from bottom to top.

Boomer Volunteer Engagement: Collaborate Today, Thrive Tomorrow sets the stage for making this profound transition and provides concrete strategies for success.

Jill Friedman Fixler is a nationally known leader recognized for her innovative approaches to re-inventing, re-engineering, and re-vitalizing nonprofit and public sector organizations. Don’t miss her Books & Beignets session at the NCVS Conference in June!

Books & Beignets
Boomer Volunteer Engagement – Collaborate Today, Thrive Tomorrow
Wednesday, June 8, 2011 7:00 AM – 8:00 AM
Session ID: 5741

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