July 26, 2015

Bring on the Boomers

Posted in Marketing, Volunteer Diversity, Volunteer Generations tagged , , , , at 3:48 am by Sue Hine

Human Women Age Progression

I’ve been hearing about the implications of an ageing population for a long time now. Prognostications include an awful lot of doom and gloom about the cost of pensions and health services, and the shrinking tax-paying work force available to support that expenditure. At the same time there is much laudatory exposure of the engagement of young people in volunteering – Gen Y and the Millenials.

The World Giving Index (2013) shows that “Global youth are driving the rise in volunteering: Since 2011, the biggest increase in participation in volunteering has occurred among 15-24 year olds.  Within three years this age group has gone from being the least likely to the second most likely to volunteer.”

An outspoken blogger argues the obsession with Millenials is a Nonprofit Trend that has to Die. “There are other groups we also need to pay attention to, like the Boomers, who will be retiring and affecting the sector in various ways.”

So I went looking for what’s happening in volunteering, for the data that might give me a reality test of who is doing what.

Statistics New Zealand’s Time Use Survey 2009/2010 showed older people (aged 65+) spent more time on unpaid work than people at other life stages – 4 hours and 31 minutes a day; young people (aged 12–24 years) spent the least, at 1 hour and 46 minutes. OK – that information is a bit old, but gives a pretty clear difference between age groups.

A bit more up to date is 2012 information from Volunteering NZ’s Statistics on Volunteering (New Zealand General Social Survey). People aged 65-74 reported undertaking volunteering work the most (37.7%) followed by people aged 45-54 (34.4%). People in the 25-34 age group reported the lowest rate of volunteering (24.8%). When measured by life-stage, the proportion of people volunteering increases from 28.8% of young adults volunteering to 35% of older people, as indicated in the following graph.

volunteering-lifestage-450x284

On the other hand, Department of Internal Affairs (NZ) Quarterly Volunteering & Donating Indicators for the September 2014 quarter show that people between the ages of 30-39 were the largest cohort of volunteers.   People of 60-74 and 75+ years were not far behind.  Long-term trend indicates people aged 40-49 have had the highest percentage of volunteers for 11 of the 19 quarters analysed.  Ages 10-19 have lowest % for 16 of 19 quarters.

US Bureau of Statistics data for 2014 finds that people aged 35-44 were most likely to volunteer (29.8 %). Volunteer rates were lowest among 20- to 24-year-olds (18.7%). For persons 45 years and over, the volunteer rate tapered off as age increased, though the rate for people aged 65 and over was 23.6%. Teenagers (16- to 19-year-olds) had a volunteer rate of 26.1%.

NCVO figures from UK Civil Society Almanac 2014 note that between around a quarter (24%) and a third (33%) of people in each age range report volunteering at least once a month, with those aged 65-74 the most likely to volunteer this frequently.

Enough! From this mish-mash of information I take the following points:

  • Yes, there is a significant rise in the rates of youth volunteering, but they don’t put in the hours that older people (65+) work as volunteers.
  • What is fairly consistent is the highest rate of volunteering in the 30-49 age group, what is (or used to be) called middle adulthood, when involvement in children’s school and sporting activities and local community services can be expected.
  • Yet, in New Zealand at least, it seems older people (65+ years) are the biggest contributors to the community and volunteer sector.

So why are we not hearing more about what older volunteers can do, about attracting older people to volunteering? Specially when we know they are living longer in better health, and how volunteering can be good for both physical and social health. The buzz of volunteering and its intangible (and tangible) rewards are just as important for older people as for younger generations.

A UK report on the future of volunteering in an ageing society indicates the challenges, like they keep on working till at least age 70; they take on extra grandparent duties (or even full-time parenting); and bountiful economic years have given many of them opportunities for travel. Anxiety about being a ‘do-gooder’ or ‘interfering’ is also expressed by people raised in an era of different social norms. And current marketing and promotion of volunteering is not reaching them.

Some excellent resources for engaging with Boomers are available, from best practice to tips and tools. It’s all the stuff we’ve been preaching in New Zealand about management of volunteers for the past five years and a reminder about being inclusive in volunteer programmes. Boomers are too big a population to ignore, and volunteering is their best opportunity to keep involved in all spheres of community life.

As an 82 year old Ambassador promoting Boomer volunteering for Volunteering Waikato has said: No-one should ever be left out!

According to Henry Ford, “Anyone who stops learning is old – anyone who keeps learning stays young”.

And that’s the point made by the president of New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) in 2012:

It has become an obsession to label people as belonging to supposedly homogenous generations – be that Gen X, Gen Y, Millennials or Baby Boomers. Often this labelling becomes a tool for negatively creating false and divisive barriers between generations, or setting one generation against another. Carelessly used, these labels perpetuate ideas of ‘them’ and ‘us’, rather than helping us to build greater social cohesion.

Being a student is one of those shared experiences that continues throughout our lives – we never cease to learn. So everyone is a Generation Student!

That label would suit me just fine, because I could be learning from young people as well as my peers.

So let’s spread the word about the variety of volunteer challenges available to the Boomer generation, about the opportunities to apply their skills and experience, and the opportunities to learn more, and about the richness of belonging and being involved in our communities.

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January 18, 2014

Unseasonable Doubt

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Politics of volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering, Trends in Volunteering tagged , , at 10:43 pm by Sue Hine

new-year-2014-wallpaper-download-for-pC[1]

On New Year’s Day 2014 I was far from windy and wet Wellington.  Beachcombing on a wide bay under a hot sun was just the tonic to clear the head.

I had a few things to sort out about developments in volunteering, social services and the community sector.

I have been mightily impressed with the promotion of volunteering during the past year.  The work of Volunteering New Zealand for National Volunteer Week (June) and the International Days in November and December was truly encouraging.  The model of NGO partnership between Volunteering New Zealand, ANGOA and Social Development Partners is one to follow for other organisations, for economies of scale if nothing else.  I would like to think such a partnership will enhance the status and influence of the community sector on political decision-making.  I also noted how managers of volunteers got to find greater confidence in undertaking their roles, and the value of meeting and learning from each other – the VNZ Conference in November was testimony to that.

But the devil in my mind is in a bigger picture, not the detail.

The growth and status of NGOs                After thirty years of neoliberal economic policies and devolution of government I should not be surprised to find organisations tending to act like corporate businesses.  Of course they needed to lift their game, to become more businesslike in governance and financial management and to comply with all the regulations that filtered through government contracts and obligations to philanthropic funding.  Of course time and changing social conditions can alter an organisation’s focus on its mission and vision.  But the trend to seek sponsors and partnership arrangements with private sector business, and the rise and rise of corporate employee volunteering is another dimension that risks turning NGOs into ‘subsidiary businesses’.

Three matters of concern arise from this trend.

Ongoing lack of understanding about volunteering  The commercial and consumerist world has trouble accommodating the idea and practice of time, skill and effort given freely for the benefit of others.  We get platitudes of appreciation, not genuine understanding.  It seems the wealth of volunteer action cannot be counted therefore it must be of little value.  Which explains why so many managers of volunteers remain poorly paid and of low status, while fundraising and marketing personnel are the rising stars.  The resulting outcome is to find pursuit of sustainable funding sources taking priority over connections with the communities organisations purport to serve.

Volunteering is a utilitarian tool  Volunteers have all sorts of reasons to volunteer, and it’s good to be open about wanting work experience, social interaction, practice in speaking English, to be job-seeking or doing court-ordered community service.  Altruism has always involved a reciprocal benefit, even if it was a simple feel-good factor.  But we are close to perceiving volunteering as an asset to be exploited, to be traded like any other commodity.

Two-tiered non-profit sector  All this business development for NGOs has led to overlooking what is happening in the rest of the sector.  We should not need to be reminded there are thousands of not-for-profit organisations (NFPs) keeping communities keeping on mostly without the benefit of government contracts and philanthropists’ largesse.  Outspoken concern from writers, researchers and commentators on poverty and inequality during the past year has highlighted the distance between government rhetoric and social reality in many parts of our communities.  The words ‘democratic disconnect’ resonate, emphasising voter apathy and a populace focussed more on survival needs than on gathering people power.  ‘Democratic deficit’ highlights government opposition to criticism and a lack of real consultation which pressures NGOs into silence for fear of jeopardising their funding arrangements.

So where does all this leave managers of volunteers?  In the spirit of New Year optimism I think there are heaps of indicators for a positive future.  The role of managing volunteers might have emerged in concert with the growth of NGOs and the sector, yet over the last ten years the profession has made huge strides in defining the role and articulating best practice.  Technology and the internet have fostered global and local communication.  There are opportunities for training and development.  There is an established sense of identity and collegial fraternity among practitioners which extends to supporting people new to the role.

The challenge for now will be to protect volunteer programmes from the encroachments of utilitarian managerialism, to maintain that spirit of volunteering we have taken as an article of faith for generations.  Or shall we accept a radical shift in our ideology and go with the flow of larger interests?