Why Senior Volunteers Are Vital to Your Organization
(and how to make your opportunities more accessible)
At the beginning of 2018, Willamalane Park and Recreation District set out to become “one of the most inclusive programs” in their area. This nonprofit wanted to engage volunteers from all walks of life. In part, this meant making their programs more accessible to senior volunteers. We enlisted the expertise of Willamalane’s District Volunteer Coordinator, Mavis Sanchez-Scholes, to highlight the importance of welcoming seniors, and to explore ways to make your opportunities more accessible.
Welcoming Diversity: Why It’s Essential
A diverse group of volunteers means your organization has a range of expertise to address your community’s needs. Your nonprofit may rely on people of all backgrounds and levels of experience to make a difference. By uniting members of your community through volunteerism, your organization has the opportunity to foster inclusivity, dissipate ageism, create meaningful conversation, and strengthen your volunteer base.
The Benefits of Volunteering for Seniors
Volunteering is a great way to stay involved in the community, enrich one’s own life, and impact the lives of others. Seniors who volunteer enjoy innumerable benefits, including:
- Physical health: Studies show that adults who volunteer live longer — and with better physical and mental health — than their counterparts who do not volunteer. Volunteering promotes healthy levels of physical activity, and seniors who volunteer regularly tend to report enhanced physical capacity and greater life satisfaction.
- Mental and emotional health: Seniors who volunteer are also happier. According to multiple studies, volunteering can even help decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease! After just one year of regular volunteering, seniors displayed fewer feelings of isolation, loneliness, and depression.
- A sense of purpose: What keeps many seniors volunteering? A sense of purpose, according to the Corporation for National and Community Volunteering. Regardless of age, it’s possible to have a positive impact on one’s community; volunteering can be the most valuable part of someone’s life.
How Seniors Benefit Your Organization
One in four people over the age of 55 volunteer. That’s an enormous contribution made to the economy and our communities! There are countless ways seniors benefit your organization. Using senior volunteers allows you to:
- Tap into unique expertise: Senior volunteers have a wealth of personal and professional experiences to share. Mentorship programs, for example, are a meaningful way to tap into the knowledge and expertise of your seniors, while creating opportunities for intergenerational understanding.
- Accomplish a lot: Retired adults can often invest more time in the activities and causes they truly care about. In fact, people over 65 volunteer more hours per year than any other demographic; that’s an average of 94 hours volunteered per person per year! Think about the positive impact your organization can have with your most dedicated contributors.
How to Make Your Volunteer Opportunities Accessible for All
As you welcome new volunteers, make sure you provide opportunities that are accessible. As Willamane evaluated their operations, they considered the needs of their senior volunteers. Here are some of the ways your organization can become more accessible to seniors:
Offer Technology Training
Willamalane introduced a new volunteer management software in early 2018. It made recruiting and registering volunteers simpler and more efficient; however, the organization wanted to make sure each of its regular and prospective volunteers were comfortable using the new system. Willamalane even held one-on-one training sessions to make sure those of all ages knew how to find and sign up for opportunities.
Install Computers in Your Centers
Not all community members will have access to a computer or internet at home. To help address this, Willamalane has installed computers in its Adult Activity Center. Sanchez-Scholes reported that senior volunteers enjoyed being able to access their Community Connect platform at the centers; the platform even allows volunteers to see their impact:
By creating a space to not only access opportunities, but also feel like a valued part of the process from the start, Willamalane empowered its seniors to become engaged members in the community.
Make it a Group Effort
Nearly 50% of senior volunteers say they volunteer with someone else, like a friend or spouse. Volunteering fosters friendships and fights loneliness. Encourage your seniors to bring a friend, or sign up as a group. Consider establishing a ride-sharing program to and from your centers. Not all your senior volunteers drive, and it’s a great way to meet others and ensure each of your participants has the means to make a difference. Or, why not get creative and hold a volunteer mixer? Bring your volunteers together while encouraging engagement with your organization!
Choose a volunteer management software that allows users to search for opportunities that best match their skill sets, so you can rest assured they feel valued and prepared. Post a variety of opportunities that require different skills, from office work to mentorship. This way, your seniors can find opportunities they feel passionate about while also feeling comfortable with the task at hand.
Plan for Event-Day Accessibility
The most common barrier to senior volunteering relates to physical-limitation and health issues. Make sure each of your locations can accomodate wheelchairs, and have help on hand for those who may need extra assistance.
Your big event days can be especially rewarding, and many of your volunteers may want to participate in these special opportunities! However, those with physical limitations or health concerns may find that volunteering at events is a bit too overwhelming. So, take the time to make your event as accessible and comfortable as possible for attendees and volunteers. Will you provide transportation from your community center to the event location? When hosting outdoor events, providing tents for shade and blankets for the cooler months can make a huge difference. Communicate this information beforehand so that participants feel prepared. Don’t forget to address any questions and concerns your seniors may have ahead of time.
Consider Opportunities for Homebound Volunteers
Does your organization provide opportunities for homebound volunteers? Just because someone cannot make it to your site, that doesn’t mean they should be excluded from your cause! Post opportunities for those who can help from home. Here are just a few ideas to get you started:
- Partner with the NICU department at your local hospital. They’re always looking for knitted socks and blankets for premature or at-risk babies.
- Collect homemade sweaters and hats for the homeless population and at VA centers.
- Set up a mentorship program, where volunteers can help by way of phone call or home visit. (Bonus: Your volunteers can ward off feelings of isolation and loneliness while making a difference).
Show Your Appreciation
For some of your seniors, volunteering is one of the most important parts of their day. Thank your volunteers sincerely and often. Even small demonstrations of gratitude show your volunteers just how much they mean to your organization and your community. Check out this article on thanking your volunteers.
Don’t be afraid to acknowledge contributions in a more practical way. Willamalane provides catered lunches for volunteers at most of its events. “Volunteers are donating [up to] eight hour shifts, so the least we can do is offer them a catered meal,” said Sanchez-Scholes. Your volunteers will be grateful for the consideration and some much-deserved nourishment!
Support those who support your organization. Taking the steps to make your senior volunteers feel comfortable and welcome is vital to your organization’s success. After all, they may be your most dedicated community members! Welcoming people of all experiences and abilities allows you to truly address the collective objective: bettering our communities.