Boomer Engagement: Build Your Organization’s Capacity, Even in Times of Scarcity

Editor’s note: Tapping into the growing number of Boomer volunteers (those aged 50 and up) is a leading concern for many nonprofits looking to grow their capacity over the next five to 10 years and beyond. This article is the first in a series of four posts on the subject by experts and guest bloggers, Jill Friedman Fixler and Beth Steinhorn.

By Jill Friedman Fixler and Beth Steinhorn, JFFixler & Associates

boomercoverAfter five years of volunteering in your organization, one 54-year old volunteer, “Liza,” walks into your volunteer manager’s office and explains that her day job has been restructured and she now will need to travel more. As a result, she needs to rethink her involvement with your organization.

Will she be thanked and wished well in her new challenges or will the organization be able to retain her? Can your staff imagine a way to engage Liza for her skills and take advantage of her passion for your mission? Can you?

Big Challenges but Even Bigger Opportunities

Liza’s story is not unique, and it represents one of the greatest opportunities that nonprofits face, even in these challenging times. With increased demand for services despite decreased budgets, nonprofits across the country are encountering unprecedented challenges. Yet, opportunities abound for those nonprofits who position themselves to take advantage of them. Legions of our nation’s 78 million Baby Boomers have been forced to delay retirement or are back on the job hunt due to unemployment or shrinking portfolios, yet they are still eager to share their work experience, talent, and deeply rooted desire to leave a social legacy.

If intentionally cultivated and strategically engaged, Boomers and the generations that follow offer abundant resources for organizational capacity building even in these times of scarcity. The time to act is now. Consider what would be possible if nonprofits asked every volunteer, donor, client, and participant, “What skills do you have that you would gladly share with our organization if we could make it possible for you to do so – and if they align with our strategic goals?” Imagine the abundant resources that would surface that we never before dreamed possible.

In our work as consultants and as partners with VolunteerMatch, we challenge nonprofit leaders to consider a collaborative and skills-based volunteer model as a strategy to thrive during these challenging times. In this and the next three posts in this series, we’re sharing some tips on how to access the abundant resources that are already in your world and build organizational capacity.

Where to Start

To begin, simply ask a few of your volunteers and constituents this question, “What skills do you have that you would gladly share with our organization if we could make it possible for you to do so?” Let’s return to Liza.

For five years she has dedicated a few hours a week to your organization but is no longer able to maintain that schedule. If the volunteer manager and Liza brainstormed the possibilities of what it would take to “make it possible” for Liza to share her skills, they could discover some wonderful possibilities.

  • Liza could mentor a new marketing professional – a commitment of only an hour a month, but one with lasting effects.
  • She could lead an ad hoc marketing task force to redesign the organization’s website; a short term project may feel more manageable.
  • She could draw from her own network to cultivate some new volunteers with useful skills – a few phone calls with a big impact.

Who among your volunteers and constituents has untapped skills that could build your organizational capacity? What are you willing and able to do to make it possible for them to share those talents? Consider that over the next two weeks and check back for tips on how to structure your organization to be able to take advantage of the answers in Part 2.

For more information, read Jill Friedman Fixler’s book, Boomer Volunteer Engagement: Collaborate Today, Thrive Tomorrow.

Jill Friedman Fixler, Principle of JFFixler & Associates, is a national consultant on volunteer engagement and author with Sandie Eichberg of Boomer Volunteer Engagement: Collaborate Today, Thrive Tomorrow. Beth Steinhorn, Associate of JFFixler & Associates, edited the book.