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Tom Nelson: National Conference on Volunteering and Service, Panel on Boomer Engagement

This finding connects to a key point made by CNCS in their 2010 report, Volunteering in America: Greater numbers of community associations correlate with higher volunteer rates.

While the percentage of people volunteering through an organization has remained steady, what has changed in a significant way is the amount of time people spend volunteering. In 2003, volunteers reported spending an average of 15 hours a month in service, compared to 6-10 hours a month last year.

While the hours are down, expectations are high. Boomers want to see an impact from their service. This desire, I would add, tracks with the overall push for metrics.

And the last piece of research I’ll cite today is this: An AARP survey this year found that 27 percent of people50+ use social media websites. That percentage is expected to keep rising.

So, to recap, as we think about how to engage more Boomers in service, we know that:
More want to give back
Flexibility is crucial
Interest in self-directed service has shot up
On average, volunteers are contributing less time
Volunteering through an organization has held steady, and the more community associations there are, the higher volunteer rates are, and
On-line communities are one key path to community engagement. They can help expand service efforts.

What lessons we can draw from these findings?

First, given the fact that more Boomers want to give back, we ought to have a deep appreciation of how much we can contribute to the life of a community by creating the conditions for greater engagement.

Second, given the importance Boomers place on having an impact through their service, it’s vital to describe to them how their role will advance a goal—and to make sure the tasks they undertake do indeed make a difference.

Third, we need to make sure potential volunteers can easily find flexible opportunities that fit into their time constraints.

Fourth, to insure flexibility, we ought to exponentially increase the availability of self-directed efforts.

Fifth, Boomers will increasingly turn to social media sites and other Web destinations to find such opportunities.

Sixth, to engage those who want to volunteer with an organization, we need to find effective ways for them to contribute their skills to help build capacity. Bob Grimm will speak to that.

We need to understand what greater engagement through self-directed efforts means—and what it doesn’t mean. There is an indispensable role for community organizations that provide an infrastructure to recruit, place, and manage prospective volunteers.

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