Seniors – more time on their hands but not volunteering

Agelessvoice asks Laurence Lien, CEO of the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC), about the low senior volunteerism numbers and what non-profit organisations can do about it: (The last biennial survey from NVPC shows a significant increase in the 55 to 64 age group, from eight percent in 2004 to 22 percent in 2010. For the 65 and above group, growth went up from four percent to 10 percent from 2004 to 2006, and hovered at around 10 percent in the following years.)

An RSVP senior guide at the Jalan Besar Heritage Trails in Singapore.

“I feel the biggest obstacle is the mindset of our seniors and of the rest of us towards seniors. First, I think some seniors may have a recipient mentality. They feel that they have worked hard all their lives and deserve a rest in their old age. I think this is the wrong concept of living. If we are part of the ageless generation, we should banish all talk about retirement. And it is certainly never too old to lend a helping hand or to volunteer in the community.

Specifically, when it comes to volunteering, seniors may think that giving is a sacrifice, it’s hardship. Anecdotally, we know that volunteers gain a lot more than they received. Studies have also show that the social motive is a social predictor of present volunteers and non-volunteers based on the motivation to increase social interactions, interpersonal relationships and friendships.

I think many seniors also come from a generation where volunteerism was not commonplace and they may not have had the experience of volunteering. We need to get them started in some way.

When seniors volunteer, they make terrific volunteers. Senior volunteers contribute more hours than the younger supporter. In Singapore, the median volunteer hours for all Singaporeans are 36 hours. The median hours contributed by seniors in Singapore was 104 hours!

Non-profit organisations need to re-tool their Volunteer Management Systems to attract and retain boomer volunteers, taking into account their interests and preferences. Planning should take into account that individuals from a broad range of backgrounds and experiences can fill a variety of useful roles.

Some baby boomers may prefer opportunities for civic engagement that do not involve working through an organisation. Seniors tend to be mobilised through word-of-mouth and through direct referrals. Such social engagement also includes the kind of informal neighbour-to-neighbour helping that is common in many communities. Informal initiatives should be encouraged as valued alternatives to organisation-based volunteer service.

RSVP volunteers helping seniors.

Community-based initiatives that bridge the generations should receive special attention. These programmes build the community by integrating the old with the young, transmitting knowledge and experience to future generations and re-enforcing the value of people of all ages. Senior volunteers report substantial benefits to themselves: The satisfaction of sharing their experience, feeling useful, and giving back to the community.

I think there is a lot of opportunity to create more activities by seniors for seniors.  Senior volunteerism has already enabled several organisations to impact more lives through a multiplier effect, by empowering the senior volunteers to help fellow seniors. An example would be the Marine Parade Family Service Centre having a 45-strong team of senior volunteers who conduct twice-weekly home visits to about 60 elderly people in Marine Parade.”


(** PHOTO CREDITS: Courtesy of RSVP Singapore – The Organisation of Senior Volunteers)



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One Response to “Seniors – more time on their hands but not volunteering”

  1. agelessadmin
    agelessadmin November 8, 2012 at 1:55 AM #

    I have received a comment on this write-up from Jeffrey Law. He said, “Laurence Lien’s views on senior volunteers are interesting but lack in-depth study. He still harbours the archaic mentality that seniors are on the receiving end, sickly and are resistant to change. Nothing is further from the truth; in fact, many senior volunteers aged 65 and above at RSVP Singapore (where I’ve been volunteering since 1998) not only contribute many hours (above national average) unlifting the less fortunate but what heartens us is the fact that we can see the outcomes and effectiveness of our hard work. If Laurence believes that seniors are not volunteering in their retirement, then he would do well to find out the rationale. Are they lesser educated, lesser skilled or earning meagre wages during their active working lives? Can all this contribute to their being nonchalant about volunteering?

    Back to RSVP – the Organisation of Senior Volunteers. Our members come from all walks of life – many in their 70s and above. Space does not allow me to list all the enriching programmes. However, our annual Senior Volunteer Week which is independently organised and financed by our members has invariably attracted good response from the public at large. Recently, Health Minister and Minister-in-charge of Ageing Issues Gan Kim Yong launched the event as well as our Senior Volunteer Training Centre.

    Many RSVP’s members find life after retirement exciting, enriching, meaningful and enjoyable. Volunteering has added value to our golden age, active ageing and intergenerational bonding. Above all, we may have retired from work, not from life.”

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