serene ambition™

transforming the culture of aging

Volunteering

Posted by Jim Selman on 12/15/06

One of the principal notions many newly retired folks consider is volunteering. To be sure, most community agencies will attest there is a large and growing need. Interestingly enough, these same agencies are mostly run by paid full or part-time staff, and the work available to volunteers is mostly limited to administrative chores and fundraising. Volunteers of America, for example, is almost entirely run by career social workers and full-time staff.

I think the reason for so little actual volunteering is two-fold:

First, the organizations do not know how to use and manage talented and energetic retirees to make meaningful things happen.

Second, these agencies ‘come from’ scarcity and the belief that they ‘need’ help—therefore, they are reluctant to challenge those who do volunteer.

This blog and its companion site, “The Possibility Place” (which will be launched next year), is dedicated to the premise that we need to “clean up the messes before we die”—and to the belief that most of the innovation and work necessary to break the logjam of resignation, cynicism and bureaucratic inertia will be led by retirees. I propose that we need to put on our leadership hats when we retire, not take them off and assume that the next generation takes care of everything! This is not to say we don’t have some responsibility for the seventh generation: we need to ‘pass the torch’ in a manner that allows our children and our grandchildren’s generations to stand on our shoulders and not simply learn by trial and error. It’s not a matter of hoping they will ‘fill our shoes’. It’s a matter of demonstrating and developing leadership—leading by example before and after we retire. Just as we’ve tried to create positive models throughout our careers, we need to model the possibilities of growing older.

I will be saying a lot more on this subject in coming months. For the moment, I want to challenge you to consider making a commitment to give of your time and talents to take care of an issue or concern that you care about. If you cannot find an organization already working on it, then start one. If you can affiliate with an organization working in the area of concern to you, then insist—in fact demand—that you be accountable for meaningful work that will require the best you have to offer. Don’t settle for licking stamps and answering the phone if you have other skills and experience to offer. Make big requests and big promises.

If you need other reasons to volunteer, consider that volunteering is also a great way to learn new skills and take on new and interesting challenges—a way to break out of whatever career orientation you’ve had over the years. It’s also a terrific and useful way to stay connected to other people and the community, a sure-fire cure for loneliness and isolation.

At the end of the day, volunteering is a privilege and it should be the volunteer’s responsibility to gain more from the experience than they are giving. Those who are already participating in this way will attest that the rewards available from making a contribution are far greater than any compensation they may have received while conventionally employed.

© 2006 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.

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One Response to “Volunteering”

  1. Colleen said

    Will there be some new retirees who will make a resolution to REALLY engage in community early in 2007? All of us at Volunteer Vancouver truly hope they read this and seriously search for that significant role!

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