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Volunteering as an older adult: How to find the right fit for your new lifestyle

October 24, 2018


Many parents feel involving their children in volunteering at an early age can have a profound, long-lasting impact on their kids. But youngsters are not the only ones who can reap great rewards from volunteering, as studies show that men and women at, beyond or approaching retirement age also benefit greatly from volunteer work. Research from the Corporation for National and Community Service found that more than 20 million older adults contributed in excess of three billion hours of community service time each year from 2011 to 2013. The reasons why older adults volunteer are varied, but in its 2014 survey the AARP’s Experience Corps found that 97 percent of its volunteers indicated that their volunteer work with the organization gave them a sense of purpose.

Older adults who want to volunteer but have little or no history with volunteering might not know where to begin with regard to finding the right opportunity. The right fit can make all the difference for volunteers and the people they help, and the following tips might help older adults as they look for an opportunity that best utilizes their skills and experience.

• Know your schedule. Older adults who are still working but want to volunteer may have a firm grasp on their schedules, but even retirees should not overestimate how much time they have to volunteer. Before you begin to look for an opportunity, write down your commitments and daily schedule, using this list to determine how much free time you have to volunteer. Some opportunities require greater time commitments than others, so make sure you know just how much time you can devote to an opportunity before signing up.

• Give due consideration to your experience. Older adults who have retired or are on the cusp of retirement have a lifetime of experience they can use to help others. Imparting wisdom learned in your professional life can provide a sense of purpose and even make you feel as though you are still actively involved in the industry where you built your professional reputation. But life experience can also prove invaluable in volunteering opportunities. Mentoring programs give volunteers the chance to help young people, and such opportunities can involve more than just offering professional advice.

• Don’t downplay the significance of certain opportunities. Volunteering opportunities come in many variations, and each is significant in its own right. Coaching a grandchild’s soccer team can have as significant an impact on the people you help as other volunteering opportunities. Volunteers offer their time because they have a passion to help others, and that help can be given in a myriad of ways.

• Leave time for the rest of your life. Volunteering is a selfless act, and volunteers are the backbone of many successful charitable organizations. But older men and women should leave time for the rest of their lives as well. Retirement should be fulfilling but also include time for recreation, so don’t downplay how important hobbies are to you in an attempt to find more time to volunteer. No retiree wants to grow resentful of his or her volunteer work because it leaves little time for other pursuits, so do your best to balance your charitable endeavors with the other things in life that matter to you. Finding the right volunteer opportunity can make all the difference for older men and women who want to give back to their communities.