Recruiting Older Volunteers

Older volunteers offer a world of experience.Has your organization considered targeted volunteer recruitment? What about seniors? If you think about it, seniors have much to contribute to the voluntary, community-based sector.

First of all, seniors already have many years of work and life experience and have fine-tuned their skills in a variety of disciplines. Also, retirees may have time to devote to volunteer endeavors.

With the baby boom generation moving closer to retirement, seniors are an untapped resource when it comes to building your volunteer base. The 2000 National Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating (NSGVP) reported that senior volunteers give more time to nonprofit organizations than any other age group, spending between an average of 181 to 269 hours per year volunteering!

Seniors as Volunteers in Newfoundland and Labrador

In Newfoundland and Labrador, seniors are actively involved in volunteering. The Seniors Resource Centre, a community-based agency located in St. John’s works to promote the independence and well being of older adults province wide through various services and programs.

The Peer Advocate Program of the Seniors Resource Centre focuses on engaging volunteer seniors in order to provide information and support to other seniors. Originally started as an information referral line, in 1996 the Seniors Resource Centre expanded the Program to include a network of peer advocates who could provide much needed information and support to seniors living in communities across the province.

Eighty peer advocates now volunteer in a number of communities including Trepassey, Burin, Port au Port and Clarenville, to name a few. The volunteer seniors in each community take part in a series of information sessions to prepare them for their new roles as peer advocates.

Rosemary Lester, Executive Director of the Seniors Resource Centre, says the program is beneficial to the volunteers as well as the clients they assist. “Volunteer seniors have often been community volunteers their entire lives but as they get older they may begin to feel isolated from the community. The Peer Advocate Program exemplifies older people as volunteers; drawing on their life experiences and giving them the confidence to continue their volunteer role in the community.”

Tips for Recruiting Volunteer Seniors

Like most volunteers, seniors begin volunteering because they were asked.

In order to recruit those who have no experience volunteering, it is important to vary your methods of recruitment.

There is widespread agreement that the best way to recruit volunteers is by word-of-mouth or personal contact. Most volunteers say they began their volunteer activities simply because someone asked them. This is true for all volunteers, seniors included.

However, volunteers recruited by word-of-mouth tend to belong to the same networks – in essence they are recruited by their peers. Often, people outside these networks are never asked to volunteer. Wide-spread recruitment efforts, using media, public service announcements and other cost effective means can reach new audiences and enable your organization to build a new volunteer base. 

Seniors continue volunteering for a variety of reasons.

It is important to know why people volunteer.

According to a study done by The Independent Sector, in the United States (Senior Citizens as Volunteers), when asked their reasons for volunteering, seniors most frequently mentioned

  • It is important to help others.
  • I fell compassion toward people in need.
  • I can do something to help a cause that is important to me.
  • I thought I would enjoy the work.
  • Volunteering makes me feel needed.

Seniors have a wealth of life and work experience to share.

Don’t under-utilize the skills of an older volunteer.

Don’t assume that a senior citizen can only volunteer in a passive sense (i.e.: stuffing envelopes, overseeing a ticket booth, etc.). Learn about each volunteer and his or her background. Surely they will have unique skills that brought them to your organization in the first place.

Pat Wright, Volunteer Coordinator with the Seniors Resource Centre says when placing volunteers it is important to look at each individual to assess the types of volunteer activities they may enjoy. “It really depends on the volunteer” says Wright, “Each individual is different, regardless of age and the goal is to place volunteers where their interest, and the interests of the organization, are best served.” 

Seniors may experience certain barriers to volunteering.

Make volunteering accessible.

Provide assistance to help seniors overcome barriers to volunteering. Transportation may be an issue for some senior volunteers. If this is an issue for seniors in your organization, perhaps you can provide transportation or consider whether the volunteer can perform his or her duties from home.

A volunteer is a volunteer, regardless of age, and volunteer programs should be well thought out and managed properly.

All volunteer programs should include planning, screening, retention, and evaluation techniques.

When designing a volunteer program, planning is as important as implementation. Volunteers should be given clear instructions/expectations of their duties and responsibilities. Volunteer screening, training, and evaluation are key aspects of any successful volunteer program.

Research shows that seniors are more likely to volunteer with certain types of organizations than with others.

Know your audience – when recruiting volunteer seniors keep in mind the type of organizations that seniors are more likely to be involved in.

 Seniors in Canada tend to volunteer with the following types of organizations:

  • Religious organizations (22% of volunteer hours)
  • Social service organizations (24%)
  • Arts, culture, and recreation organizations (24%)
  • Health organizations (14%)

Support for volunteer activities typically differ between senior volunteers and the rest of the volunteer population.

Although statistics show that seniors are less likely to be involved in supervisory roles, keep in mind that seniors volunteer more hours than younger volunteers so supervisory roles may be ideally suited to them.

Over one third of seniors organized and supervised events, compared to more than half of 15-64 year old volunteers. Thirty-one percent of senior volunteers (31%) provided care or support, such as counselling and friendly visiting, compared to 22% of younger volunteers.

It is important to ask a volunteer whether he or she is interested in a supervisory role. This is best accomplished through the proper planning, interviewing and assessing of any potential volunteer.

For more information about the Seniors Resource Centre and its programs and services contact 1-800-563-5599 or email


Fischer, Lucy Rose and Schaffer, Kay Banister. Older Volunteers: A Guide to Research and Practice, SAGE Publications, 1993.

Hall, Micheal; McKeown, Larry; Roberts, Karen. Caring Canadians, Involved Canadians: Highlights from the 2000 National Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating. Statistics Canada, 2001.

Volunteer Canada and the Canadian Centre for Philanthropy. Volunteering…A Booming Trend. 2000.

Chappel, Neena. Volunteering and Health Aging: What We Know. Canadian Forum on Volunteering, Volunteer Canada, Health Canada and Manulife Financial, 1999.

Lester, Rosemary. Seniors Resource Centre. Personal Interview. 5 September 2002.

Wright, Patricia. Seniors Resource Centre. Personal Interview. 5 September 2002.