The Nonprofit Boon from Boomers

HBS Working Knowledge: Social Enterprise: The Nonprofit Boon from Boomers
Here’s a pretty optimistic prediction about the windfall in volunteer labor nonprofits may get.

As 77 million baby boomers are moving ever closer to retirement, they have the potential to provide a tremendous source of paid and non-paid labor for many nonprofits—if you know how to reach them—concludes a recent report.

So, the outlook is good that there may be a ready supply of volunteers if we can figure out how to motivate them and get them to actually do what they say they expect to do during their retirement years. Since people do not always do what they say, several experts in the field believe that boomers will need a push.

In general, many of the boomers are highly educated, motivated, and want to leave their mark on society. The leading-edge boomers came of age during the Kennedy years when optimism and the idea of service to one’s country were high on the nation’s agenda. But then life took over—starting a family and advancing in a career put those ideals on hold. Now, with an extra decade or two of life ahead, these boomers can have a second chance to fulfill those dreams. The question is, can we tap into those dormant feelings and reignite the spark? To do so, we need to create an environment conducive to giving back to society.

Nonprofits, then, could take advantage of this delayed retirement by reaching out to individuals while they are still working and recruit them for episodic volunteer opportunities. Such a strategy would allow boomers to get their feet wet, with the hope that they might be more likely to continue volunteering when they do retire.

Boomers are more educated than previous generations, and unlike their parents, who may have volunteered out of a sheer sense of obligation, they have different expectations about how they spend their time and how their volunteering may be valuable to the organization as well as to themselves. Many of the traditional volunteer activities, such as envelope stuffing or being a candy striper in a hospital, for example, may not resonate with the busy boomer of today.

Q: How can local and national nonprofits take a lead in this campaign?

A: Nonprofit organizations that use volunteers need to realize the potential opportunity on the horizon and begin to develop strategic plans on how they might retool. Many leaders of these organizations are approaching retirement themselves, and have no plans in place for their successors, or future directions for their organizations. So, at the very least, nonprofits need to put these issues on their radar screen and plan accordingly.

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