Boomers driving American volunteerism makeover

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As the first wave of retiring boomers leaves the work force and the next wave reaches 55, they are redefining another American institution?volunteerism.

Baby boomers have been rewriting American culture for decades. Now, as the first wave of retiring boomers leaves the work force and the next wave is reaching the 55-plus mark, they are redefining yet another great American institution?volunteerism.

In 2002, Dom Gieras retired from his job with the state of New York after 30 years. Where once his volunteering revolved around his family?s needs including stints managing his son?s baseball teams, today he is a volunteer technology consultant with the Executive Service Corps of the Tri-Cities. Gieras consults on projects for local nonprofit agencies, is a volunteer Webmaster for a literacy organization and is the creator of the Capital District Nonprofit Technology Assistance Project, a Web site that serves as a reference guide to technology solutions for local nonprofit professionals.

An avid reader, Gieras, 66, says his original plan for retirement involved just the tutoring and literacy work. ?But when I discovered the state of their technology, I decided they needed me more there,? he says.

Now that baby boomers like Gieras have more time of their own, they are increasingly looking for innovative ways to serve nonprofits in causes they care about, volunteering experts say. And, like Gieras, many are choosing opportunities that are deeply rooted in the skills and experiences they acquired in the working world.

?Boomers came of age in an era of activism and involvement,? says Jill Friedman Fixler, an expert on boomer volunteering trends. ?As boomers reach the later years of their work they are beginning to think about their legacy, how they will be using their time and skills to impact their community?and skilled volunteering is the most logical way to contribute.?

This summer, Friedman Fixler partnered with VolunteerMatch, the nonprofit organization whose Web service, www.volunteermatch.org, is the leading volunteer matching network, to release ?Boomer Volunteer Engagement: Collaborate Today, Thrive Tomorrow.? The book helps charities recognize opportunities for deep engagement with older adults and reorganize their volunteer programs to support more skilled volunteering.

According to Friedman Fixler, skilled volunteering is proving more rewarding both for boomer participants and for the organizations they support.

?Boomers who are pondering their next act are looking for new ways to give their skills relevance in service to their community,? she said. ?At the same time, nonprofits are looking for ways to expand their capacity. This powerful collaboration is a win-win for everyone.?

Skilled volunteering opportunities tap a wide range of professional expertise. Some popular opportunities include grant writing, accounting, marketing, strategic planning, board development, fundraising and social services.

The majority of volunteers 55 and older?and nearly two-thirds of men?prefer volunteer positions that employ their personal or professional skills, according to a recent VolunteerMatch report.

?We are seeing volunteerism evolve into a more collaborative relationship between the volunteers and organizations,? said Diane Stobnicke, division director for Volunteers of America. ?Not only is it especially fulfilling for volunteers to be able to use their professional experience to help others, collaborative volunteering has significant cost benefits for organizations. Skilled volunteers can handle tasks that might otherwise be done by paid professionals.?

Largely comfortable with the Internet (if less immersed in technology than their kids), boomers are increasingly going online to find volunteering opportunities that match their skills, interests and schedules. More than 200,000 older adult volunteers currently use VolunteerMatch, the largest Web site for skilled volunteer opportunities. Using just a few key words, volunteers can search for opportunities based on geographic region, cause and the types of skills they have to offer. To find skilled volunteer opportunities, visit www.VolunteerMatch.org.

Geiras said he still has fond memories of his days as a baseball coach, but his volunteer work as a technology consultant is a better match for where he is in life today.

?I still run into kids who were on teams I managed,? he said. “But I?ve learned a lot over the years and I like sharing what I know and what I can do.?

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