“Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in” ~ Anon
This powerful and very inspiring quote is an accurate and eloquent interpretation of volunteerism. It captures the essence of civic engagement and can serve to inspire those of us who have become disenchanted with politics and politicians. It emphasizes the idea that volunteering is one of the most selfless acts a person can perform. Volunteering is an act of tremendous generosity that can have a positive impact on the quality of life of the recipients and also those who volunteer. It is also an act that reflects democracy in action at the simplest level of society.
With the significant increase in the ageing population, it appears that an unlikely opportunity is presenting itself in the area of volunteering. This demographic shift along with the willingness of older citizens to give back to society is a chance for this group to create a better society. Seniors bring with them a lifetime of knowledge, skills, experience and wisdom that took years to acquire. Given the continued uncertainty in economies around the globe, the gift of volunteerism by seniors is most welcome especially in this climate of fiscal cuts that are impacting so many deserving community projects.
For most of us approaching retirement or those who are actually retired it is a time of great transition. During this period of transition some seniors come to the realization it is critical that they engage in pre-planning before retirement. It is not only a prudent decision but a necessary one to set aside time to examine how to spend one’s retirement.
Retirees who engage in volunteering can enjoy intangible benefits. For example, good feelings for giving back to society and in many cases contributing to a more healthy lifestyle by keeping active both physically and emotionally. Even healthy retirees can be challenged by lack of social interaction, stimulation and loneliness which can lead to depression. Retirees can, and do benefit, from getting involved in various volunteer activities related to cultural, educational, health care or political interests. They can also consider reaching out to the disadvantaged or to charitable organizations, not to mention the growing interest in nature conservation projects for the environmentally conscious seniors. However, some restraint should be exercised by those who volunteer. There are some individuals who tend to get involved in ‘everything’ and exhaust themselves. That is all they do every day and the result is that they ignore the importance of having ‘balance’ in their lives.
There are other compelling reasons for seniors and retirees to engage in volunteer activities as evidenced in research on this topic. In particular, those who have not made concrete plans on how to spend their time during retirement are encouraged to choose volunteerism. Social isolation can be a serious risk factor to the physical and emotional wellbeing of seniors. As described above, seniors can reap many benefits during this phase of life. According to results from research on volunteerism and seniors, there is clear evidence that ‘your brain can become sharper and you can live longer’. These are wonderful benefits to contemplate if you are in good shape emotionally and physically and want to do volunteer work. Refer to this link for information on that study: Seniors Who Volunteer May Live Longer
Despite the range of positive effects, volunteering can sometimes be a negative and unsatisfying experience. Some non-profit organizations do not operate with transparency and fail to exercise due diligence in their operations. Furthermore, some personnel at these organizations lack the required educational credentials and organizational skills to carry out their responsibilities efficiently. Even more disconcerting is that some volunteer organizations do not place much value on the services provided by volunteers in the retiree demographic. Hence retirees would be well-advised to do extensive research into the organizations they plan to do volunteering in their golden years.
Whether you are a senior of modest or comfortable financial means the act of volunteerism gives you an opportunity to make a generous contribution to your community while realizing great benefits to your own life. Retirees who want to give back to society or are seeking more meaning in their lives should consider volunteering. It is clear that there are compelling reasons to volunteer. The wonderful end result is that volunteerism can be instrumental in making democracy more of a reality in society.
UPDATED August 2017 – Refer to this link for excellent suggestions on how well-run organizations should manage and retain volunteers:
Top ten tips for volunteer management and retention