Civic Engagement and Zoomers

An initiative to develop creative civic engagement roles for Zoomers

There is a real willingness among Zoomers to offer their skills to non-profit and community organizations. However, there is limited interest in the non-profit sector to place older, experienced people in challenging roles.

A few years ago, Volunteer Canada set up a database to collect resumes from people looking for volunteer roles that fit their qualifications. They received a lot of resumes, but there weren’t enough volunteer openings that called for skilled and experienced candidates. So they shut down the database to avoid disappointing the applicants.

When volunteer organizations say that boomers are not volunteering as much as the previous generation, what they mean is that boomers are not signing up for the kind of volunteer opportunities they are currently offering.

Most Canadian non-profit organizations are experiencing a great shortage of resources. However, leaders in the volunteer community have told me that there is a view that the role of volunteers is to take on traditional routine front-line duties; delivering services, fund raising, adminstative support, etc. These are valuable roles, but do not provide the kind of challenges and learning opportunities that many retirees from senior jobs would find rewarding.

I have produced a series of interviews for about Canadian organizations that provide challenging volunteering opportunities, and with retireees who have volunteered. I have found that the majority of those organizations are recruiting retirees to send them abroad to provide technical assistance in developng countries.

Canadian Executive Services Overseas (CESO), which is one of the longest established volunteer sending organizations, has some 2,800 willing and qualified candidates on their database roster, but they can only provide opportunities for some 600 each year, so there are many volunteers on the roster who are never offered assignments.

I also interviewed the United Nations Volunteers organization in Bonn, Germany. They emphasized that, while travelling as a volunteer is stimulating and interesting, in the long run it is more important for people to volunteer in their own communities.

Many people think of volunteering as “giving back to the community”, but retiree volunteers I have interviewed who have been involved in successful assignments at home or abroad, all say that they got as much or more benefit out of the experience as the people they set out to help. A challenging assignment is a win-win situation, not a one-way relationship.

At present, there is no national organization in Canada that places skilled and experienced retirees with non-profit organizations in their own communities. I am working with CARP to change this situation, and I hope some of you will be interested in helping us.

We will collaborate with leading organizations in the non-profit sector to close the gap between the needs of non-profit organizations across Canada and Zoomers by creating more opportunities for Zoomers to apply their experience and skills in creative civic engagement roles within their home communities.

We will publish regular articles and updates about developing civic engagement opportunities in CARP Action Online, and we have established a CARP on-line forum to serve as a meeting place for members interested in participating in this project.