Friday, March 09, 2007

Nonprofits Should Target Boomers

WASHINGTON D.C. — With Baby Boomers potentially increasing older adult volunteers by 50 percent in the year 2020 (and doubling the number of older adult volunteers by the year 2036) non-profit organizations might consider doing a better job at targeting Baby Boomers says a study released by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

The first-ever study to track volunteering among a large sample of Baby Boomers from year to year, "Keeping Baby Boomers Volunteering," found that Americans born between 1946 and 1964 want higher-skill assignments to keep them engaged, and it advised nonprofit organizations to re-imagine roles for that emerging crop of volunteers. The report also found that Baby Boomers are volunteering at higher rates than their predecessors — including the Greatest Generation — and that those who volunteer 12 weeks or more annually are most likely to serve year after year.

The Corporation's "Volunteering Among Older Americans: Population Projections, 2007-2050," released along with the report today, forecasts that the number of older Americans will continue to rise sharply for decades because the youngest Baby Boomers will not reach age 65 until 2029.

"The Boomer wave signals one of the largest opportunities the nonprofit sector has ever had to expand its pool of resources," said David Eisner, CEO of the Corporation. "Only the nonprofits that retool their ability to engage citizens will reap that reward."

The report, which used Current Population Survey data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau in 1974, 1989 and from 2002 to 2006, found that three out of every 10 Boomers who volunteer today leave their organizations each year. It outlined key characteristics that lead to greater retention. The study found that:

• Boomers in their late 40s to mid-50s are volunteering at higher rates than members of the Greatest Generation and Silent Generation did at the same age. Boomers were volunteering at lower rates than their predecessors while in their 30s, but that trend has reversed.
• Three volunteer activities appear to hold considerable appeal for Boomers. In particular, three-fourths of Baby Boomer volunteers who engage in professional activities -- such as managing people or projects -- continue volunteering the following year. Activities with the second and third highest volunteer retention rates were music or some other type of performance (70.9 percent) and tutoring, mentoring and coaching (70.3 percent).
• Volunteering appears to be a virtuous cycle -- the more often Baby Boomers volunteer, the more likely they are to volunteer again. Volunteers who serve 12 or more weeks per year have a volunteer retention rate of 79 percent vs. 53 percent for those who serve two or fewer weeks per year.
• Baby Boomer volunteers who engage in general labor or supply transportation regularly drop out of volunteering (with only 55.6 percent continuing to volunteer the next year).
• Underscoring the important connection between working and volunteering, the report found that remaining in the workforce increases the likelihood that a Baby Boomer will continue to volunteer: 60.5 percent of Baby Boomer volunteers who leave the workforce continue to volunteer the following year, compared to 69.3 percent of those who experience no change in their labor status. Baby Boomers increasing their work hours are slightly more likely to continue volunteering compared to those who decrease their work hours (71.6 percent vs. 68.4 percent). If many Baby Boomers retire later and work longer than past generations (working into their 70s), as some studies indicate, that trend could actually translate into a larger number of older American volunteers.

"The Baby Boom generation gives our nation an unprecedented opportunity to increase the breadth and the scope of volunteering," said Robert T. Grimm, Jr., Director of the Corporation's Office of Research and Policy Development. "If we use the right approach, this population will continue their service and change the face of volunteering in America."

Grimm said nonprofit organizations should examine charitable and human resources models for retention -- cultivating volunteers the way an organization would a donor and providing professional development as many employers do for their staff. Since other studies predict that trillions of dollars will be given to charities in the coming decades and that volunteering and giving behaviors are related, he said encouraging substantial volunteering makes good business sense for nonprofits because such efforts also could result in considerable monetary gifts to organizations that serve needs.

Baby Boomers' relatively high volunteer rate today is tied to their education level and propensity to have children later in life. Previous studies have found education and having children are two key predictors of volunteer levels, which accounts in part for the fact that the volunteer rate for Baby Boomers is peaking later in life than past generations. In fact, mid-life adults (age 45-64) are three times as likely to have a four-year college degree today as they were 15 years ago (from 11.5 percent to 29.5 percent). Once their children leave, Baby Boomers could maintain relatively high volunteer rates because of their higher education levels, expectations that they will work later in life than previous generations, and good health.

Eisner released the report today in Chicago at the Joint Conference of the American Society on Aging and the National Council on Aging to highlight the Corporation's continued commitment to engaging Americans born between the boom years of 1946 and 1964. The Corporation, nonprofits, and private-sector organizations launched the "Get Involved" campaign at the White House Conference on Aging in 2005 to promote national awareness and recruitment of Boomers. Last year, the Corporation unveiled its Strategic Plan, and one of the goals is harnessing Baby Boomers' experience.

The Corporation for National and Community Service improves lives, strengthens communities, and fosters civic engagement through service and volunteering. Providing service opportunities for millions of Americans of all ages and backgrounds, Corporation programs include Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and Learn and Serve America. The Corporation supports a national goal to recruit an additional 10 million volunteers by the year 2010. For more information, visit National Service.

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