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Retirees as Volunteers: Avoiding Some Common Mistakes

Last week a very dear friend, who is in her early seventies, visited our home for several days. We enjoyed laughing, eating and catching up on each others’ lives but one short conversation reminded me of ministry with older adults and the importance of churches and organizations providing specific volunteer opportunities for retirees.

Our friend retired from her career as a children’s librarian and among other things, began volunteering for a local school. However, whenever she went to the school she found herself never knowing quite what to do. You see, the school didn’t give her any responsibility. She just had to show up and go to the different teachers and ask if there was anything she could help them with. She felt in some ways that she was bothering them and finally decided that she wasn’t cut out for this type of volunteer work. Interestingly, she is now back working part time at the library.

Unfortunately, her story is not uncommon. There are a number of reasons that organizations fail to fully utilize retirees as volunteers.

1. Organizations believe that they should not give volunteers any major responsibilities. This is a big mistake. Just because someone is a volunteer does not mean they cannot handle leading a big project or running a program.

2. Organizations fail to give people specific tasks or a specific job. Volunteers need to know that what they are doing matters and that they are filling an important need. You won’t retain a volunteer if they don’t have a specific job. They want to do more than just ‘show up’.

3. Organizations don’t find out the unique skills and experiences that the volunteer has. Having been a librarian, our friend would have been more than happy to be put in charge of re-shelving books in the school library or processing returned items. But no one asked her.

What lessons have you learned about engaging retirees as volunteers?

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