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From expanded nonprofit service opportunities to a new source of volunteers

Each day, nearly 10,000 Americans reach age 65. Many of them will live into their 80s and 90s. Is your organization ready to tap the wealth and volunteer power of this booming population?

News reports about older adults often emphasize their increasing demands on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and similar programs. But equally important for nonprofits is the capacity-building potential of aging baby boomers. To engage these constituents, start with the following strategies:

Meeting the challenges of older constituents

Remember individual differences

As you target donors and appeal to volunteers, remember that "baby boomer" describes anyone born from 1946 to 1964. That’s a span of 18 years. Expect diversity in values, attitudes and behaviors among the members of this age group.

Reinvent your language for aging

Don’t assume that baby boomers think of themselves as old. Their life expectancy is the longest in American history, which makes "old" increasingly hard to define. It’s better to use "older" as an adjective.

Also save the word "elderly" for people who are truly frail. Drop the term "senior citizen." It’s laden with images of physical disability and cognitive decline. There’s a similar problem with statements such as: "Even at age 78, Betty is still an active volunteer." Avoid any mention of age unless it’s truly relevant.

Avoid assumptions about older volunteers

Don’t expect aging baby boomers to retire in conventional ways, have loads of extra time on their hands, and fill it with volunteer work. According to a report from the Harvard School of Public Health and MetLife Foundation, people are actually more likely to volunteer in mid-life — when their family and work commitments are at a peak — than in retirement.

To recruit older adults, describe volunteering as a way to make a mark on society and create a legacy. Also point out the health benefits of volunteering — including lower rates of depression, blood pressure and early death.

Design volunteer opportunities carefully

Your older volunteers might enjoy stable and predictable tasks that draw on their existing career skills. On the other hand, younger volunteers could be looking for a variety of duties that will help them develop additional career-boosting skills. Look for ways to meet both sets of expectations.

Make special efforts to engage women

According to a 2016 report from Merrill Lynch and Age Wave, women are the "more generous gender", especially as they get older and near retirement. Here are some giving trends among the genders:

  • Women are more likely than their male peers to donate money and time to nonprofits.
  • More women than men agree that retirement "is the best time in life to give back."
  • Women are more likely to derive happiness from "helping others than from spending money on themselves."
  • Compared to men, women's giving is more likely to be motivated by a feeling of gratitude rather than a sense of obligation.

Remember that among older married couples, women tend to lead the decisions about charitable giving and inheritance bequests.

Seizing the opportunities

Target fundraising efforts to older adults

The Merrill Lynch/Age Wave report also states that retiring baby boomers will donate about $6.6 trillion in cash and $1.4 trillion in volunteer services over the next 20 years. This generation’s increasing life expectancy bodes well for nonprofits, too: Baby boomers will spend more time in their "prime donor years."

Remember that baby boomers are more likely than their parents to direct how their donations are used. With this in mind, offer them options for giving that go beyond simply writing a check, such as:

  • Donating stocks, mutual funds, real estate and other appreciated assets
  • Opening a donor-advised fund account
  • Creating a charitable gift annuity (CGA)
  • Begin recruiting older workers from the private sector when they start to consider their retirement options
  • Enticing older workers with flexible work schedules.
  • Capturing interest and drawing on management experience

Continue to recruit older volunteers

Don’t write off retirees because they are less likely to donate their time than younger adults. On the whole, older adults who do volunteer end up spending more total hours on this activity than members of any other age group.

Reach out through social media

To reach aging baby boomers, rely less on direct mail. Devote more resources to social media instead. About 52 percent of people age 60 to 69 are on Facebook. Many of them also use mobile phones, iPads, and other portable digital devices.

Recruit older adults for more than volunteering

Baby boomers are more likely than any previous generation to work past traditional retirement age. Compared to previous generations, this age group is also more healthy, more wealthy, and better educated. One option for highly-skilled older adults with long work experience is a later-life career in the nonprofit world.

Baby boomers represent more than sources of money and volunteer time. They offer a rich pool of talent for your staff, leadership, and board positions as well.



MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.



Scientific American: Age Brings Happiness (2017) by Karen Schrock Simring



Writer and editor fascinated by knowledge management, behavior change and technology for nonprofits