Temple Times Online Edition
    MAY 25, 2006
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Temple initiative helps nonprofits
mobilize boomer volunteers


This year, the oldest members of the baby boom — the generation born between 1946 and 1964 — are celebrating their 60th birthdays.

As America’s most populous generation enters retirement age, the National Training Network, an initiative of Temple’s Center for Intergenerational Learning, is working to mobilize boomers into the greatest army of volunteers in the nation’s history. For nonprofit organizations dependent on volunteers to accomplish their mission, the effort couldn’t come at a better time.

“Americans have tended to look at the aging of boomers as a problem to be solved, but we see it as an opportunity to be seized,” said Andrea Taylor, director of the National Training Network, adding that 77 million boomers will reach retirement age in the coming decades. “That’s an incredible resource for cash-strapped nonprofits to unleash, if they can find a way to mobilize them to address society’s needs,” she said.

The National Training Network was created last year with the help of a three-year $1.35 million grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service and additional funding from the HRC Foundation, the Pennsylvania Department of Aging and the Verizon Foundation. The CNCS funding is targeted for training of CNCS grantees, specifically AmeriCorps/Vista, Learn and Serve, and the Senior Corps.

This spring, Taylor and her colleagues conducted their first conferences, workshops and training sessions in the field, traveling to work with staff at nonprofit organizations in California, Texas, Wisconsin, Missouri and Ohio. Over the next few months, Taylor and her team will be providing training in Utah, Virginia, New Jersey, Washington state and Oregon.

Coaching nonprofits on the art of recruiting and retaining boomers is essential, because boomers are quite different from members of previous generations, particularly “the G.I. generation,” the primary source of senior volunteers for decades. And if it takes a boomer to know a boomer, then Taylor is the ideal trainer: She just turned 60 this year.

“In general, boomers are better-educated, more diverse and have greater resources at their disposal,” Taylor said. “They also tend to be in better health and have an increased life expectancy over previous generations.”

According to Taylor, boomers also have very different attitudes about retirement, which can present big challenges for nonprofits that are seeking volunteers who can make long-term commitments to an organization. For example, rather than disengaging completely from their jobs as they age, boomers seem to be phasing in a mix of work, leisure and civic engagement as they enter traditional retirement age.

Also, whereas members of “the G.I. generation” are often more motivated by their loyalty to an organization, regardless of the tasks they are assigned, Taylor said boomers are more likely to be enticed by an opportunity that will both contribute to society and also offer personal fulfillment.

“We advise nonprofit organizations to think more expansively about creating both long-term and short-term volunteer opportunities, as well as those that are more complex, in order to capture the skills and talents of this diverse generation of people,” Taylor said.

For more information on the National Training Network and other initiatives at Temple’s Center for Intergenerational Learning, go to www.templecil.org.

- By Hillel J. Hoffmann