How to Retain Baby Boomer Volunteers

There are about 79 million Baby Boomers out there — born between 1946 and 1964 — and they’re volunteering at a rate higher than ever before. But 31 percent of those who volunteer fail to return the following year, reports a just-released study from the Corporation for National Service.

So how does your organization change this attrition rate? Clearly, you need to focus on this group of volunteers as a unique segment of your volunteer base — learning their interests, needs and patterns, how to capture their experience and energy, and what factors impact their decision to volunteer from year to year.

Most organizations treat volunteers as a single audience — and they’re no more a single audience than your donors, staff or board. Remember that Boomers:

  • Have different interests (including volunteer interests) than previous generations. The study reports that boomers are most likely to volunteer with religious organizations (which has remained consistent), however their second area of volunteer involvement is now educational or youth service organizations, rather than the civic, political, business and international organizations favored in an 1989 study.
    • Pinpoint those interests and make relevant volunteer opportunities available, presented in an engaging way.
  • Stay in the workforce longer, but have a series of jobs or professions.
    • Provide challenging, inspirational opportunities. When engaging BB volunteers, look to put their skills to use to keep them engaged while building your organization’s capacity. Win-win.
    • Seek activist working to affect change or propel a movement, not volunteers (that image of the grey-haired lady is hard to kill).
    • Make sure you position your organization in a clear and compelling way, and that staff and volunteers are consistent in how they spread the word.
  • Perpetuate the “virtuous cycle.” The more hours a Boomer volunteers, the more likely she’ll continue volunteering.
    • Make sure you approach your volunteers as assets, as you do your donors and employees. The more positive experience a volunteer has, the more likely she is to keep it up.

When you take these steps, your organization will be reward with a corps of skilled, dedicated, energetic volunteers with many years to keep volunteering, and who are great prospects for giving in the coming decades.