You don’t have to be a college student, specialist in a specific area, or affiliated with any organization to be a volunteer. Retirees, with their more flexible schedules and wealth of wisdom to offer, are particularly well-positioned to make a great contribution and get special satisfaction out of volunteering. And you couldn’t pick a better time in history to donate your effort: nonprofit organizations who utilize volunteers are currently primed to welcome one of the largest generations in modern history to transition out of full-time careers and into active retirement.
Here are some statistics, incentives, stories, ideas, and resources to get you thinking about what kind of volunteer experience might suit you best.
By the numbers
According to research conducted for the Home Instead Senior Care network, nearly 100 percent of North American senior volunteers say that, when compared to other activities they do in retirement, volunteering is important, and one in five senior volunteers says it is the most important thing they do!
A 2013 paper prepared by Volunteer Canada reports that baby boomers tend to volunteer to supervise events, serve on boards and committees, and participate in fundraising, while older seniors are more likely to support individuals through counseling and via health care services. The most popular fields for adults over age 45 to volunteer in are sports and recreation activities, social services, education and research, and faith-based organizations (though involvement with education and research drops off quickly as age advances).
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics issued a press release in 2013 stating that American volunteers spent a median of 50 hours on volunteer activities from September 2011 to September 2012; men and women spent about equal time. Median annual hours spent on volunteer activities ranged from a low of 32 hours for those 25 to 34 years old to a high of 90 hours for volunteers age 65 and over. Go seniors!
While the ostensible purpose of volunteering is to help others, volunteers themselves also stand to gain many benefits from donating their time. It might be impossible to describe all the benefits one can personally expect from volunteering, but their breadth could reasonably be broken down into two categories: mental health and physical health.
On the mental health side, you may be familiar with the term “helper’s high,” which was popularized by volunteerism expert Dr. Allan Luks. “Helper’s high” describes the powerful feelings people experience when directly helping others (the sensation has been shown in studies to positively affect physical health as well). Sounds refreshing.
Also, older individuals who might otherwise be missing the social contexts of work and children in the house can meet new people and develop new relationships through volunteering. This expansion of their social networks and strengthening of relationships within their communities can provide a “safety net” of enhanced emotional support during any illness or crisis that may arise in the future.
As for the physical benefits, they are many! For one, retired adults often need to consciously find ways to stay physically active; a regular volunteer gig can provide the perfect platform. 75% of seniors with chronic pain who were surveyed in the Home Instead Senior Care network study said that volunteering helps them to manage their condition; a similar percentage of those with arthritis, diabetes, and high blood pressure reported that giving back is an important stress reliever and helps them cope with the discomfort brought on by their maladies.