July 6, 2022

John H Stroger, Jr Hospital

Onsite healthcare volunteer and advisory council program review

John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County

Healthcare Volunteer Department consultation

Older Adult Volunteers Bring New Expertise and New Life to Nonprofits

Non Profit Consulting and Training - Wendy Biro-Pollard 104

(ARA) -When Margaret Ross retired from a career in nursing, she had no idea that her new life as a volunteer would lead her right back into healthcare. Neither did Mike Chesnut, whose work building retail partnerships looks a lot like his volunteer service for a group of Denver nonprofits that are fighting homelessness. The same is true for retiree Berlin Hall. Since leaving his accounting executive career, Hall’s desire to help at-risk families led him to volunteer to manage the books for a family services agency.

As they move into roles in service and volunteering, older adults like these are discovering that what they know is just as important as how much time they can give. Their help couldn’t have come at a better time. With demand for nonprofit services skyrocketing, fundraising and revenues are way down. Some experts predict as many as 100,000 nonprofit organizations could run out of money for their programs completely.

The recession has spurred more interest in volunteering among older adults, particularly among boomers, says Jill Friedman Fixler, a nonprofit consultant and co-author of “Boomer Volunteer Engagement.”

“This is a group with abundant skills and profound circles of influence and they believe they can have an impact in their community right now,” she says.

That was the idea for Chesnut. After leaving his job as a retail sales executive with Procter & Gamble, Chesnut, 64, spent several years as a counselor for small business owners. When he moved to Denver a few years ago, he decided to focus on helping nonprofits. As he explored his options, Chesnut was struck by Denver’s homeless problem. Millions of dollars were being spent pulling families out of shelters, but programs that were trying to keep families out of them to begin with were underfunded. After organizing a coalition of local nonprofits, Chesnut began a research project that eventually led to a successful $600,000 grant.

“Coming from the corporate world and working with large retailers, you learn to look for common interest,” he says. “What I did was put numbers to the problem.”

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Shifting Course: Why You Should Be Preparing For The New Volunteer

Non Profit Consulting and Training - Wendy Biro-Pollard

If you did a survey of hospital volunteer programs, you would discover the majority of them were formed in the early-to-mid 1950’s. These programs were organized by GI Generation women, many of whom had worked and volunteered to support the war. Once their soldiers returned, the women returned home too, raising children and putting their time, organizing skills, and energy into volunteering and raising funds for civic organizations…and community hospitals.

Many in the GI Generation were shaped by two world wars and a great depression, and so were their workplace values. These are the values that have defined hospital volunteer programs for more than 50 years–serving on a regular-ongoing basis, performing repetitive, lower skilled, highly defined roles. An annual banquet and a pin for their service hours were standard and desirable forms of recognition. A pink pinafore was a source of pride. Now the youngest members of the GI Generation are 85 years of age.

What is your healthcare institution doing to create new systems and new opportunities for the next volunteer generation?

Your volunteer pool is dwindling and you are not alone.  But looking to younger volunteers to work in “old” systems won’t succeed. This next generation says they prefer short-term commitments.  They want meaningful work and opportunities to use their professional skills. They want autonomy, self-direction and lots of choice when volunteering.  They are time-poor and you are competing for their recreational time and time with friends and loved ones. What they want in exchange is a valuable experience-reflective of their ideals, their skills, and their values!

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