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Who Are the Next Generation of Volunteers?

May 29, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 146

Boomers are starting to retire. By 2020, in less than a decade, the number of boomers in the workforce will have decreased by 50%. What is hoped, by service and volunteer organizations, is that this will increase the number of boomers looking to volunteer their time and services to the various volunteer and service organizations needing their resources. However, the challenge for leaders of volunteer organizations is not just attracting more volunteers and encouraging them to donate more of their time to voluntary tasks, but, to attract and retain boomers, these organizations will need to provide the right type of volunteer opportunity. For Boomers, the right type of opportunity is one that encourages them to utilize the skills, knowledge and experience they have spent their entire working lives to acquire.

At the same time, leaders of these organizations will be seeking ways and means to attract and retain members of the succeeding generations, Generation X and Y, to build the volunteer base for the future.

According to Statistics Canada, our population is aging and we have more people in the 45 to 55 age group that we have in the 25 to 35 age group. The birth rate in Canada (and all other Western nations) has slowed considerably and the average age of Canadians today is 39 years of age versus 26 in 1971. This will affect our health and social systems but it will also affect our organizations - both inside and outside the workplace. Predictions, by social scientists, of a decline in the expertise available, particularly at the management and senior levels of organizations, may well be the same for volunteer organizations. On the website, in April of this year, they noted that "... the percentage of baby boomers volunteering (in the U.S.) on the decline... nearly 22 million boomers gave their time in communities across the country in 2010 - that's about 28.8 percent of boomers, down slightly from 29.9 percent in 2007 and from 33.5 percent in 2003."

In terms of the workforce environment, intergenerational influences that affect both its composition and operation. There are four distinct generations in the workforce - and a significant shift is underway reaching its peak by the year 2020. This shift will occur due to the exit of Boomers and their replacement by Generation Y. Today, 40% of senior positions are held by Boomers. They lead the companies and the country - they hold a significant amount of expertise and, they have the corporate volunteer networks in place. Generation X and Y have entered the workforce and they have arrived with different preferences, working styles, and views of work, workplace environment and how they should be treated as employees. Recent studies with small business owners, those employing less than 100 employees, representing the majority of employers in Canada, have found that less than 25% of them have a succession plan in place - a means to pass on their business and expertise.

This intergenerational workplace has significant implications for the development of future volunteer activity. Boomers still dominate, not only the workforce in general, but also the senior positions in most organizations, including volunteer organizations. As Boomers retire, they will be replaced by a much younger group - Generation Y - with potentially very different views of the volunteer role and activities. Boomers should be accountable to mentor, coach, and develop the next generation of volunteers. What will be their legacy in this area? What will ensure Boomers, themselves, continue to give back, in the traditional sense as volunteers, by donating their free time (at retirement) to volunteer organizations?

Assuming that participation in the volunteer community will mirror participation in the workforce, by 2020, the percentage of Boomers will actually decline, along with a decline in the numbers of Generation X participating in volunteer activity.

Estimates gathered from Statistics Canada surveys in 2010 show that of the 2.1 billion volunteer hours expended during that year, approximately 36% of these hours were expended by Boomers. Generation X contributed 29% of this total, and Traditionalists (those aged 65+) and Generation Y each contributed 18% and 17%, respectively. So what might be the effect of these demographic changes on our volunteer organizations, our service clubs, organizations that rely on volunteers to achieve their goals and deliver on their community purpose? If we apply the workplace demographic changes to the volunteer community, the decline in Boomer activity will be significant, dropping to 18%. Generation X will also decline slightly and Generation Y will increase, but not enough to offset the effect of the Boomer cohort.

There are some attributes generally considered to be preferential when recruiting volunteers. Organizations seek educated, financially sound, employed, healthy, geographically stable members. They look for those with a positive and active lifestyle, focused on others, who feel a sense of duty and obligation to others, and have free time which they will allot to volunteering activities. Boomers generally fit this profile with a couple of qualifications.

Although Boomers are considered to be in good financial shape, they are now spending money and time on boomerang children and aging parents (average age of boomer parents is increasing requiring more support for longer periods of time). Boomers are highly educated and are focused on continuing to pursue an active and healthy lifestyle and they are relatively stable geographically as they tend to cluster in metropolitan areas (these characteristics summarized from studies and reports completed by the American Association for Retired Persons and Harvard School of Public Health). But some challenges arise when assessing boomers' penchant for volunteer work. Boomers' life experience has been one of self-indulgence, independence, and self-reliance. They are primarily focused on themselves and their own social networks, and are most likely to expend any additional free time (during retirement) on their own pleasures.

Boomers will most likely remain in the workforce longer than originally anticipated so will most likely continue to contribute time and effort to those causes they feel most passionate about and that afford them this time during working hours. However, once they retire, this is predicted to change. Contrary to conventional wisdom, more people volunteer in mid-life than in retirement. Volunteerism peaks in mid-life and then gradually declines (Harvard School of Public Health, 2003). Boomers will leave a large gap - to be filled by the next dominant group - Generation Y. But there are less of them. This volunteer gap could have significant implications for those organizations reliant on volunteers. How will volunteer organizations deal with this loss of labour and, more importantly, expertise in providing services to their communities?

It is important that volunteer leaders and managers learn the demographic makeup of their organization and their communities. Otherwise, they will miss a tremendous opportunity to grow the volunteer ranks and miss out on the significant level of expertise and skills resident within this boomer cohort. Current leaders will need to invest time and effort to fully understand preferences and social styles of the various generations actively working in their organizations and available as potential volunteers in their communities. This includes researching the similarities and differences between the various generational cohorts and determining what attracts their interest. This will provide them with important information when seeking to create an environment where current volunteers are retained and future volunteers are recruited.

Volunteer leaders and managers need to "reimagine" their organizations to keep Boomers engaged and recruit Generations X and Y. To do this, it helps to fully appreciate what drives each of these cohorts and them make some assumptions about what needs to change in the organization to attract them. A recent study (Calling Brands, May 2012) found employees are seeking to work for a company that has a 'strong sense of purpose'. Generation Y job seekers, with their sense of community loyalty and their group-orientation are seeking organizations whose purpose is clear, strategic, tactical and helps them to align their personal values with the position they hold, and tasks they perform, in the organization. This would seem to align very nicely with the concept of volunteering if volunteer organizations do the same. Four possible steps volunteer organizations might take to "reimagine" their strategy and operation.

Step 1: Evaluate current competency and future leadership capability within your organization.

Step 2: Research 'next' practices. 'Reimagination' requires predicting future trends and activities rather than relying on 'best' practices - practices that work well today or in the past. Holding cross-cohort working sessions or training sessions may help the various cohorts to better understand one another and come up with creative ways to attract more volunteers from all generations. Conducting reviews of the preferences and social styles of each cohort may open up a number of opportunities for generating more interest in volunteering for the longer term.

Step 3: Conduct workshops with leaders and managers to identify changes needed for your organization, changes in terms of strategies, culture, values, and leadership philosophy. The 'reimagined' leadership philosophy will set the stage and provide the tools volunteer leaders need to grow the future volunteer force.

Step 4: Build a development plan to implement these changes. This is all about effective change management training and coaching leaders about the differences, how to work with them, and how to incorporate them into the organization.

The key is to ensure the strategy, process, implementation plan, and evaluation tools are customized to the volunteer environment. There has to be a commitment in these organizations to developing an organization that will attract the 2020 volunteer force. Couple this with the creation of a clear strategy to leverage generational styles and preferences; this will set the tone, format and scope for developing the next group of volunteers.

Develop marketing strategies and plans that target each of the three generational cohorts. Boomers will be a stable, mature volunteer group and they come with significant expertise - solid skills, knowledge and experience. And they want to utilize this expertise, be appreciated for this expertise. They are looking to replace work (since work determines their level of self-esteem) with a cause they can feel passionate about. Many of them have held leadership positions. They will be attracted to organizations that require them to mentor or coach others, those requiring professional management services, those that acknowledge their leadership experience and offer them opportunities to continue to apply these skills. Boomers are used to multi-tasking so will be willing to volunteer their time in several different capacities. If they do not feel fully utilized, they will move on. Volunteer leaders and managers need to keep in mind that Boomers will attach themselves to causes that are valued by their personal and professional networks. Social networks and interactions (where relationships matter) drive participation rates of Boomers.

Generation X prefers work/life balance and many of them have small children. They will be most interested in organizations that offer them the opportunity to get involved with their children's education. Organizations that reach out to them through school events or facilities will attract members of this cohort, particularly, if they offer family events. They grew up as the 'latch-key' kids, so like boomers, they are independent and will resist being managed closely. Find ways to encourage this independence and utilize technology to attract their interest. They grew up with networks, LANs and WANs, so can easily be marketed online through social media, internet marketing and smartphone applications.

Generation Y is the connected generation. They have never known anything different. They are group and community-oriented, loyal to their peers and colleagues. At the same time, they have Facebook friends, many of them they may not actually have met, so they are open to new experiences. Marketing to this cohort must be through social media. Without a social media presence, they are not likely to even know the organization exists. Volunteer organizations will need to use technology to recruit this group and advertise group volunteer activities and events.

Attracting, recruiting and retaining the next generation of volunteers requires volunteer organizations and their leaders to be committed to self-development, examining their current operation and identifying changes that need to occur. Leveraging generational styles and preferences will set the tone, format and scope for developing the next group of volunteers. Focusing efforts on 'reimagining' the future, applying creative thinking to 'next' practices and, fine-tuning marketing efforts to target members of each cohort is the way to build the volunteer base they will need.

Donna Stevenson is the owner of Boomer Match to Business (BM2B). She is an expert in leadership development and employee engagement, working effectively with all three generations of employees, Boomers, Generation X and Y. In her business, she specializes in matching business experts with business needs. BM2B's portfolio of business experts helps businesses to grow revenue while investing a reasonable amount of dollars, time and effort. To get access to one of her experts, contact Donna at

Source: EzineArticles
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Volunteer Organizations


Next Generation


Boomers And Volunteering


Demographics And Volunteering

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