Where are the retirees? The retiree volunteer rate is depressingly low. Here’s how to change it.

by user


There are lots of ways people keep busy after they retire: spending time with their grandchildren, golfing, traveling, researching their family tree, taking college courses — and let’s not forget playing pickleball. But there’s one thing retirees don’t seem to be doing much of, and that’s volunteering.

Only 26% of the nation’s 70 million retirees volunteer, despite the fact that the group represents “the greatest concentration of knowledge, experience and emotional intelligence in the nation’s history,” said Ken Dychtwald, chief executive of the consulting firm AgeWave and co-author of the book “What Retirees Want: A Holistic View of Life’s Third Age.”

Meanwhile, he noted that the average U.S. retiree watches 47 hours of television a week.

“It’s shameful,” he told me. “We created a vision for retirement in which older people were given no useful purpose.” Dychtwald, who is 73, would like to see a global elder corps dedicated to raising the volunteer rate among 100 million retirees around the world.

Volunteering rates in the U.S. aren’t just low among retirees, either: The rate for all ages is 23%, down from 30% from 2017 to 2019.

Read: Cuddling babies in intensive care: Volunteers are part of ‘an amazing process’

Why don’t more retirees volunteer?

As a person who spends five hours most weekends volunteering at Furniture Assist in Springfield, N.J. — a nonprofit where people who need furniture and household items can take what others have donated — I was curious to learn why more retirees don’t volunteer and what could encourage them to do so.

“Volunteering can be really beneficial in retirement, because it has the ability to give you a sense of purpose,” said Robert Pagliarini, a financial adviser with Pacifica Wealth Advisors in Irvine, Calif. “I really think that for a lot of people it can provide that sense of meaning that might be missing in their lives.”

The author of a book titled “Badass Retirement,” Pagliarini believes volunteering can be one of the keys to a retirement where you are “expanding and growing and creating and making an impact and just feeling alive.”

Read: Teaching kids to read: this 90-year-old hopes to make ‘an impression that could last forever’

The many benefits of volunteering later in life

As it turns out, volunteering has been proven to be good for your physical and mental health, not to mention a being great way to get out of the house and socialize.

Studies have shown that volunteering four hours a week or more in later life has tremendous cognitive, physical and socioemotional health benefits, Ernest Gonzales, director of New York University’s Center for Healthy Aging Innovation, told the Senate Special Committee on Aging in April.

Participants in AmeriCorps Seniors, the federal government’s national service program for people 55 and older, reported decreased anxiety, depression and loneliness. Some 84% reported stable or improving health after a year of service, and 88% of those who felt a lack of companionship before becoming an AmeriCorps Seniors volunteer reported fewer feelings of isolation after.

Read: This retiree travels the world as a clown and loves it when ‘children’s faces light up’

A recent University of Toronto study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that adults age 45 to 85 who participated in volunteering and recreational activities also aged more successfully than those who didn’t. Those who volunteered or did charity work were 17% more likely to maintain excellent health than others.

In an AgeWave/Edward Jones survey of U.S. retirees, people who volunteered were more likely to feel happy, at 64% compared with 54% of nonvolunteers. They were also more likely to feel resilient (62% versus 51%), purposeful (60% versus 46%) and healthy (55% versus 41%).

“I thought, man, if I had a pill that could add 50% to 100% of well-being to people, I could be a billionaire!” said Dychtwald, who led that study. “And what is it? It’s being of service to others.”

What makes retirees more likely to volunteer?

There are a few factors linked to whether older adults either volunteer or don’t, according to researchers who analyzed data from 13,771 participants in the Health and Retirement Study of Americans over 50. Their article, published in Scientific Reports, is titled “Identifying pathways to increased volunteering in older U.S. adults.”

What might surprise you, said Julia Nakamura, a doctoral student at the University of British Columbia who led the study, is that “people who engage in or attend religious services are much more likely to volunteer.” About 32% of U.S. volunteers are involved in religious institutions, according to statistics from TeamStage, a project-management platform.

“Maybe there’s something we can learn from religious institutions and how they manage to greatly encourage volunteering that can then be applied in nonreligious settings,” Nakamura said.

Having regular contact with friends is another factor that strongly increases the proclivity among older adults to volunteer, the authors determined.

“If you are around people, you are more likely to either be connected to volunteer opportunities or be encouraged by a friend to go volunteer,” Nakamura said.

In fact, she added, she was going to volunteer at a neighborhood cleanup in Vancouver over the weekend and invited a friend to join her. “It’s much more enjoyable to go with someone,” she said.

Meanwhile, what makes people less inclined to volunteer? Among other things: depressive symptoms, higher feelings of hopelessness, anxiety and anger, Nakamura said.

Experts on retirement and volunteering think nonprofits and employers could do much more to publicly promote their volunteering opportunities and to encourage retirees and soon-to-be retirees to give a few hours of their time each week.

“There are a million nonprofits in America, all of whom could use some volunteers,” said Dychtwald.

How nonprofits could do better

Dychtwald and Pagliarini believe many nonprofits’ websites miss the mark by not better promoting their volunteer opportunities for retirees and other older adults.

“Any time you go on to a nonprofit’s website, there’s usually one big button that stands out bigger and bolder than any other,” said Pagliarini. “And that button is: ‘donate.’” Nonprofits, he said, should focus more on “How do we make volunteering easy for people to get involved?”

He recalled retired clients telling him they found it challenging to figure out where they could volunteer and which charities could use their skills. “Sometimes they get the impression [nonprofits] don’t even want people to volunteer, because it’s not on the website,” said Pagliarini.

Kayla Paulson, a service enterprise administrator with the Association of Leaders in Volunteer Engagement in Robins, Iowa, believes nonprofits need to be more open about asking for volunteers.

“Usually, you’re not going to do something unless you’re asked,” she said.

The Stanford Center on Longevity notes that the organizations that are most successful at recruiting and retaining volunteers have full-time, paid volunteer coordinators on staff.

I mentioned to Paulson that I couldn’t recall having seen the government’s AmeriCorps Seniors program advertise its volunteer opportunities or use social media to get the word out. AmeriCorps Seniors matches 140,000 volunteers with service opportunities annually.

“They don’t do a ton of national-level promotion because they fund local programs to do it on their own,” Paulson said.

When she worked for AmeriCorps Seniors, Paulson recalled, “our best method of getting volunteers was reminding our volunteers to tell their friends. Word of mouth was my No. 1 form of recruitment by far.”

Said Dychtwald: “If you are an older person, volunteering may be unfamiliar to you. We need to think of how we can deploy people in a way that takes advantage of their knowledge and skills and matches their time availability.”

Paulson thinks nonprofits could also be more flexible about what they expect from retirees who are interested in volunteering. Requiring them to show up at certain hours and on certain days can turn off some prospective volunteers.

“I worked with an organization that always wanted people on the first and third Monday of the month, and I helped them challenge this method. A lot of retirees are traveling. They’re balancing volunteer work and life much differently than the previous generation,” Paulson said. “It’s about removing the stigma of having a volunteer ask for time off or apologize for traveling.”

How employers can help

Studies have shown the No. 1 reason people volunteer in retirement is because they volunteered before retirement. Conversely, the top reason they don’t volunteer in retirement is because they haven’t volunteered before.

This is why Dychtwald, Paulson and Nakamura would like to see more employers help their older workers find ways to volunteer before they retire and then continue that service in retirement.

“I did some work with United Way Worldwide, and they had people volunteer toward the end of their time working. Then they tried to help people sustain that volunteering when they retired,” Nakamura said. “I think that’s such a great opportunity. Retirement can come with a loss of purpose.”

How to find places to volunteer

If you are retired or nearing retirement, let me tell you about a few organizations that might help you break out of your volunteering inertia:

VolunteerMatch is a site that can help you find volunteer opportunities locally and virtually. You can search by causes that interest you, skills that you have and places to volunteer that are great for people 55 and over.

AmeriCorps Seniors has three programs for people 55 and older: Foster Grandparents, Senior Companion and RSVP. The site’s Pathfinder tool lets you locate nearby volunteering opportunities and offers a variety of ways to volunteer locally on days like the 9/11 Day of Service in September. Some AmeriCorps Seniors programs provide small stipends for certain volunteers.

CoGenerate (formerly Encore.org) runs programs that bring older and younger people together for the greater good.

All Hands and Hearts, a volunteer-powered disaster-relief organization, currently has urgent needs for volunteers around the world, including for Hurricane Ian relief in Fort Myers, Fla., and Ukraine crisis relief in Krakow, Poland.

AARP’s Experience Corps lets adults over 50 volunteer as mentors for young students.

Environmentalist Bill McKibben’s Third Act turns Americans 60 and older into climate activists and volunteers. McKibben, 62, jokingly calls his group “fossils against fossil fuels.”

Starting your own nonprofit or foundation

Pagliarini noted that some retirees may prefer to set up their own nonprofit or foundation. He and a few friends did that, starting a grassroots foundation called Amazing Girls of the World that assists young girls in Southeast Asia.

“We had a girl in the Philippines who was 8 or 9 and had a heart issue that would have killed her. She needed a $400 surgery to save her life and there’s no way she would have been able to raise that money,” said Pagliarini. “We wrote the check, she had the surgery and she’s now 23 and wants to be a nurse. She has her whole life ahead of her simply because we were able to write a check.”

Just realize, Pagliarini cautioned, that setting up and running a nonprofit or a foundation “requires a lot more commitment [and] a lot more of your time” than other forms of volunteering.

What else could motivate retirees to volunteer?

Nakamura hopes that research on volunteering in retirement and more discussions about it will raise the rate of volunteering among retirees. “How we can encourage more older adults to engage in volunteering to help them live longer, healthier, happier lives is so exciting to me,” she said.

And Dychtwald pointed to one more key finding from AgeWave and Edward Jones that he hopes will lead to change.

“We asked retirees, would they rather be useful or youthful? Off the charts: Useful. And I thought, people are yearning to be helpful. But they haven’t heard the call yet in a grand-scale way.”

Read more about retirement and volunteering:

Traveling, volunteering, and — yes — working. Welcome to unretirement.

These much-loved volunteers swoop in to rescue animals in communities struck by disasters

‘We all need purpose when we wake up in the morning’: Finding meaning in retirement leads to happiness and health


Source link

Related Posts

Leave a Review

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More

Privacy & Cookies Policy