Our Chief Executive Oonagh Aitken is a keynote speaker at the Volunteer Management Conference 2018. In advance she was asked to consider the changing face of volunteering in later life. You can read the article below and sign up for the conference here.

Older people being keen and good volunteers is not a new story. With time on their hands and life experience under their belts, many communities and services are powered by people aged 50 and over giving their time.  But as life expectancy increases, and with it often family obligations and responsibilities, this volunteer demographic (and their motivations) are changing.

My charity Volunteering Matters is in a strong position to comment on the recruitment and retention of people aged 50 and over.  We ourselves have been going for nigh on 55 years – you may remember us in our previous incarnation as CSV. Our Retired and Senior Volunteer Programme (RSVP) has long been a sector leader in supporting people to start and lead their own volunteering projects to respond to local need.  In addition we develop and run innovative, and often national, projects for and with older and retired people.  In all we have more than 10,000 people aged 50 and over volunteering with us every year, and we are fortunate to receive funding from the players of the People’s Postcode Lottery specifically to support this area of our work.

Our RSVP groups are volunteer led with light touch (yet vital) staff support.  RSVP volunteers do all sorts of amazing things to support a whole range of people – leading walk clubs, undertaking care home lay assessment, holding language classes for asylum seekers, hosting tea dances for the local community, reading in schools and bringing knitting groups with thousands of members together. I never cease to be amazed at our volunteers’ dedication and commitment.

Why do they do it?  Well our recent survey of all our volunteers (as well as anecdotal evidence collected throughout our work) told us that they volunteer because their effort transforms lives, allows people to be (re)connected with their communities, improves health and wellbeing (their own as well as the beneficiaries) and helps young people. This isn’t about warm and fuzzy feelings, this is about making clear the potential to change and help your community no matter what your age.

We are particularly proud of our Grandmentors programme, now really taking off in a number of local authorities with the support of the innovation charity Nesta’s Second Half fund. Older volunteers with life skills to share mentor and befriend young people leaving the care system who might otherwise not have an adult role model or just someone to fall back on when things are a bit tough. And it works! Statistics have also shown that the rate of young people who are NEET (“not in employment, education or training”) when leaving the programme compared to when they joined drops from 79% to just 19%.  Not only that though – a recent evaluation of our Grandmentors showed that 73% felt mentoring has given them a great sense of purpose, while 91% felt more involved in the community.

Volunteers aged 50 and over want to do really purposeful things, where they can see the positive impact on the person or the community with which they work.  Our volunteers’ survey also underlined how much they love our training and ongoing support, whether it is from staff or from fellow volunteers

With all this in mind, and with the support of ‘Give More Get More’ funding from the Office for Civil Society and Nesta, we are currently experimenting with full time volunteering for older people. We are actively seeking people aged 50 and over, who have the capacity and inclination to support a young disabled person leaving full-time education and transitioning in to the next stage of their life, for up to 15 hours a week for a set time period of a few months, with our trusted support throughout.

And so I extend the challenge to those reading this article, to share their own experiences and knowledge of volunteering amongst the over 50s, and to let us know whether this ‘full-time’ model is something they would be interested in finding out more about. We can’t be complacent about this vital demographic of volunteers ahead, and we jointly need to ensure that our sector offers the opportunities and challenges they want.