Charities need to move quickly to harness and continue to engage the time and know-how of older baby boomers.
As three new studies by Urban Institute’s Retirement Project show, aging boomers represent a big pool of potential nonprofit workers and volunteers, and the sooner charities engage them, the more likely they are to get and stay involved.
The first wave of the 76 million boomers born between 1946 and 1964 will start turning 62 and receiving Social Security benefits on January 1.
And the population ages 55 to 64 will grow by half by 2010, compared to 2000, and by three-fourths by 2020, the Urban Institute says.
“Nonprofits seem destined to benefit from significant growth in the services of retirees,” says an Urban Institute researcher.
One study says the vast majority of adults who volunteer while working also volunteer after retiring, and many older adults who do not formally volunteer try volunteering after retiring.
A second study says older adults who volunteer typically continue to volunteer, and are more likely to stop volunteering than to start.
It also says volunteers who volunteer a lot over many years and are married to volunteers tend to volunteer the longest.
Nonprofits must “focus efforts on retaining older volunteers to maximize volunteer engagement during later years,” the researchers say. “Recruiting older adults in volunteer activities early on, ideally before they retire, could fill any remaining gaps in volunteer needs.”
The third study says that while older adults are engaged at relatively high rates either through paid work or formal volunteering, the potential for enlisting more older adults in the workforce or nonprofit volunteering is enormous.
Over 10 million healthy older adults with no caregiving responsibilities — over half of them seniors under age 75, and nine of 10 of them with previous work experience — neither worked nor volunteered formally in 2004, the researchers say.
The supply of work and volunteer opportunities represents a big opportunity for older boomers, the researchers say, but they also warn that older adults with limited education and work experience will need encouragement to become engaged.
Significantly smaller shares of low-income individuals than higher-income individuals worked or volunteered formally, the researchers say.
New policies, they say, could include training, more federal funding for programs aimed at low-income older adults, and bigger networks to link older adults to volunteer opportunities.
As the Urban Institute concludes, longer work lives can mean bigger retirement incomes and tax revenues, and smaller net Social Security payouts.
“The payback from increased volunteerism,” it says, “includes enhanced health status, potential reductions in the cost of government health programs and benefits to those receiving services.”
Boomers represent a huge resource for nonprofits, which need to find ways to get them involved early, and to keep them involved.