One of the principal notions many newly retired folks consider is
volunteering. To be sure, most community agencies will attest there is
a large and growing need. Interestingly enough, these same agencies are
mostly run by paid full or part-time staff, and the work available to
volunteers is mostly limited to administrative chores and fundraising. Volunteers of America, for example, is almost entirely run by career social workers and full-time staff.
I think the reason for so little actual volunteering is two-fold:
First, the organizations do not know how to use and manage talented and energetic retirees to make meaningful things happen.
Second, these agencies ‘come from’ scarcity and the belief that they
‘need’ help—therefore, they are reluctant to challenge those who do
This blog is dedicated to the premise that we need
to “clean up the messes before we die”—and to the belief that most of
the innovation and work necessary to break the logjam of resignation,
cynicism and bureaucratic inertia will be led by retirees. I propose
that we need to put on our leadership hats when we retire, not take
them off and assume that the next generation takes care of everything!
This is not to say we don’t have some responsibility for the seventh
generation: we need to ‘pass the torch’ in a manner that allows our
children and our grandchildren’s generations to stand on our shoulders
and not simply learn by trial and error. It’s not a matter of hoping
they will ‘fill our shoes’. It’s a matter of demonstrating and
developing leadership—leading by example before and after we retire.
Just as we’ve tried to create positive models throughout our careers,
we need to model the possibilities of growing older.
I will be saying a lot more on this subject in coming months. For
the moment, I want to challenge you to consider making a commitment to
give of your time and talents to take care of an issue or concern that
you care about. If you cannot find an organization already working on
it, then start one. If you can affiliate with an organization working
in the area of concern to you, then insist—in fact demand—that you be
accountable for meaningful work that will require the best you have to
offer. Don’t settle for licking stamps and answering the phone if you have other skills and experience to offer. Make big requests and big promises.
If you need other reasons to volunteer, consider that volunteering
is also a great way to learn new skills and take on new and interesting
challenges—a way to break out of whatever career orientation you’ve had
over the years. It’s also a terrific and useful way to stay connected
to other people and the community, a sure-fire cure for loneliness and
At the end of the day, volunteering is a privilege and it should be the volunteer’s responsibility to gain more from the experience than they are giving.
Those who are already participating in this way will attest that the
rewards available from making a contribution are far greater than any
compensation they may have received while conventionally employed.