Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

December 27, 2007

Charities must enlist and keep boomer army

Charities need to move quickly to harness and continue to engage the time and know-how of older baby boomers.

As three new studies by Urban Institute’s Retirement Project show, aging boomers represent a big pool of potential nonprofit workers and volunteers, and the sooner charities engage them, the more likely they are to get and stay involved.

The first wave of the 76 million boomers born between 1946 and 1964 will start turning 62 and receiving Social Security benefits on January 1.

And the population ages 55 to 64 will grow by half by 2010, compared to 2000, and by three-fourths by 2020, the Urban Institute says.

“Nonprofits seem destined to benefit from significant growth in the services of retirees,” says an Urban Institute researcher.

One study says the vast majority of adults who volunteer while working also volunteer after retiring, and many older adults who do not formally volunteer try volunteering after retiring.

A second study says older adults who volunteer typically continue to volunteer, and are more likely to stop volunteering than to start.

It also says volunteers who volunteer a lot over many years and are married to volunteers tend to volunteer the longest.

Nonprofits must “focus efforts on retaining older volunteers to maximize volunteer engagement during later years,” the researchers say. “Recruiting older adults in volunteer activities early on, ideally before they retire, could fill any remaining gaps in volunteer needs.”

The third study says that while older adults are engaged at relatively high rates either through paid work or formal volunteering, the potential for enlisting more older adults in the workforce or nonprofit volunteering is enormous.

Over 10 million healthy older adults with no caregiving responsibilities -- over half of them seniors under age 75, and nine of 10 of them with previous work experience -- neither worked nor volunteered formally in 2004, the researchers say.

The supply of work and volunteer opportunities represents a big opportunity for older boomers, the researchers say, but they also warn that older adults with limited education and work experience will need encouragement to become engaged.

Significantly smaller shares of low-income individuals than higher-income individuals worked or volunteered formally, the researchers say.

New policies, they say, could include training, more federal funding for programs aimed at low-income older adults, and bigger networks to link older adults to volunteer opportunities.

As the Urban Institute concludes, longer work lives can mean bigger retirement incomes and tax revenues, and smaller net Social Security payouts.

“The payback from increased volunteerism,” it says, “includes enhanced health status, potential reductions in the cost of government health programs and benefits to those receiving services.”

Boomers represent a huge resource for nonprofits, which need to find ways to get them involved early, and to keep them involved.


  • At 9:49 PM, Anonymous Randall Ottinger said…

    Over the last three years, through a study I have been involved with, I became clued in to the power of the boomers. Not only do they have time and an inclination to volunteer, they also have a great deal of money they can commit to causes they care about. Whether it is enlisting boomers to volunteer or to give the key is how best to connect with them so that their passions intersect with your charity or cause. Some may just need something to do with their time, but in the best case scenario boomers are bringing their leadership along with their time and money. Look to engage boomers in ways that can truly leverage your charitable goals. They are a powerhouse of experience, money and networks.

  • At 9:55 PM, Anonymous Randall Ottinger said…

    After 3 years of studying topics of legacy I could not agree more with the opportunity to engage boomers. They have the time, and they have an incredible amount of wealth they could devote to charity. The key issue is how to engage boomers for the highest benefit of charities so that you engage their heart and soul as well as their time. The answer to this challenge is to find the intersection between your charity and the cause of the boomers you engage. Some boomers will just want to fill their time. Others, however, have the opportunity to transform your charity with their experience, energy, contacts and money. Look to engage the boomers in a substantive way, and you will be harnessing a powerhouse.


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