Research Friday: Senior Volunteering: Burden or Benefit?


posted by
Kelly Proulx,
MNpS Student &
Research Technician,
Arizona State University

Welcome to Research Friday! As part of a continuing weekly series, each Friday we invite a nonprofit expert to highlight a research report or study and discuss how it can inform and improve day-to-day nonprofit practice. We welcome your comments and feedback.

Nonprofit organizations are often dependent on volunteers, and among adults 65 and older volunteering rates have increased from 14.3% in 1974 to 23.5% in 2005. Some of this increase can be attributed to earlier retirement, leading senior citizens to be more active.1 For nonprofits, understanding the dynamics of senior volunteerism can help organizations utilize seniors in a way that furthers their mission while offering a positive volunteering experience.

Several challenges can be unique to senior volunteers. First, some volunteers may have physical limitations such as health, sight, or hearing problems. Some seniors may be unfamiliar with or resistant to newer technology. An additional problem can occur with volunteers who “age in place,” which means they joined the organization at a younger age and have lost some abilities. When the organization feels loyal to the volunteer it can be difficult to confront this issue.2 All of these concerns should be taken into account.