By Gregory Burris
If you are a local government manager, why should you care about volunteerism? As a retired city manager, I believe that the communities and their managers who can answer this question will have a significant competitive advantage during the next 20-plus years.
With 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day for 19 years according to the Pew Research Center, is your community ready for the wave of retirees? 1 In my experience, every community of any size has two things—volunteer needs and skilled retirees seeking ways to regain their identity.
While volunteers can be almost every age, it is important that local government leaders begin to focus on this growing and largely untapped wave of baby boomer retirees. I believe everyone needs to be needed, even after retirement.
Here are five things to consider about getting your community’s retirees active through volunteerism:
1. Think of volunteerism as “civic matchmaking.”
I realize Valentine’s Day has come and gone for this year, but romance is always in style. On one side of the romance is a wave of talent, skills, and passion possessed by the growing population of retirees.
On the other side of the romance are the suitors—nonprofits and local governments—who are seeking skilled and passionate volunteers.
What if each community could connect these two groups by some version of speed dating or “civic matchmaking”? It can be done, but communities must be intentional about it.
2. Follow the passion.
Encourage retirees to realize they don’t have to volunteer in the same job areas as they did with their careers. This is their chance to do something different and perhaps something they’ve always wanted to do.
If a person has spent their entire career as an accountant, they may want to swing a hammer or mentor young people. Successful volunteerism relies on the volunteer following their passion, while also benefiting the community.
3. Strengthen your community’s fabric.
Volunteerism can enhance trust, social capital and empathy, which will strengthen a community’s overall social fabric. What community couldn’t use more of these?
Volunteering impacts the individual, the nonprofit or local government, as well as the community’s social fabric, economic vitality, and quality of life. It’s truly a win-win-win scenario.
4. Address social isolation.
The levels of social isolation in my community were greater than I imagined. Social isolation is, almost by definition, hard to see if you don’t look for it.
Isolation is difficult to find unless a community is intentional about it. Out of sight, out of mind. The best tool we’ve found is to offer a program that entices people to come out and get involved.
Most realize they are not engaged. Communities need to create an opportunity for them to break out of their isolation cycle.
Do you know the level of social isolation in your community? Whether you realize it or not, I’ll bet you know someone who is suffering from social isolation or loneliness.
Humans are social animals, so the health impacts of social isolation are astounding. According to a study at Brigham Young University, loneliness and social isolation have the equivalent health impacts as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. 2
Draw some of your neighbors out of social isolation by creating volunteer opportunities that are fun, meaningful, social, and easy to find. Create opportunities for the volunteers to regain their identity and make their friends jealous.
5. Ensure your community provides a menu of meaningful volunteer opportunities.
If a retired chief executive officer offers to volunteer with your organization and you give this person some filing to do, they are not coming back the next day.
Remember, this is the other side of the romance equation. An army of skilled volunteers cannot make an impact unless there are meaningful volunteer opportunities available in a community.
Remember, too, most people are not looking for a full-time volunteer job; they are seeking one that will be fulfilling and make a difference in their community. While they may not want to stay in the same lane as their previous career path, many do want to use the skills and talents they have amassed.
Offer an array of volunteer opportunities in your community and be specific about them and the benefits they provide to residents.
Gregory Burris is executive director, Give 5 Program, United Way of the Ozarks, Springfield, Missouri (firstname.lastname@example.org). He is the former city manager of Springfield.