Volunteering in Retirement

February 20, 2011

“The great use of life is to spend it on something that will outlast us.”

– William James

“It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Volunteering – the chance to make a difference, to give back, to help others in need. It takes many forms from fairly structured assignments to informal helping of neighbors. With older adults living longer and healthier, many are looking for volunteer opportunities in their post-work lives. There are and many non-profit organizations, churches, hospitals, schools looking for help. Fortunately there are also groups and web sites to help bring the volunteers and those who need them together.

There are several factors to consider when deciding what volunteer opportunities you might wish to take on in retirement (or at any time for that matter).

First – is there a cause or mission you deeply care about? For example, if homelessness is of major concern to you, look into volunteering at homeless shelters or soup kitchens. If literacy and children strike a chord, think about tutoring or mentoring programs. And if, like the author’s wife, you care about nursing home residents and like dogs, then pet therapy might be right for you. Whatever the cause, you’ll find that volunteering for an agency or group that works in support of an issue or cause you care about will probably make that volunteer experience more meaningful and rewarding.

Second – how much time do you want to spend? This is one of the first questions volunteer groups will ask. Is it an hour a week or several days a month? Some volunteer jobs require more of a commitment. For example, Experience Corps, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. that pays 1800 older adults small stipends to tutor school children in 14 cities requires at least 15 hours per week. Their volunteers rave about the program.

Other factors to consider:
• Do you want to work in a team or alone?
• Do you want or need a stipend?
• Do you prefer episodic or scheduled assignments?
• Are challenging/meaningful assignments available?
• Does the organization or agency provide training and support to its volunteers?

Nonprofits realize that the coming retirement of the baby boomer generation – the 76 million born between 1946 and 1964 – presents a wonderful opportunity to engage a large cohort in productive and meaningful service to help address community needs. However, some agencies are more ready and able than others to accommodate flexible volunteer schedules and other volunteer preferences. And in some cases, the staff of nonprofits may find your skill sets intimidating (particularly if you are volunteering to do what they get paid to do). So do your homework and proceed gently.

Here is a list of websites to help you get started.

R. Kevin Price


© 2008-2011 R.K. Price