Helping charities to adapt to the ageing population

Older man enjoying music

The Commission on the Voluntary Sector and Ageing issued its final report, Decision Time last week.

Within two decades, one in four of us will be over 65 and the report points out that this should be seen as an opportunity rather than a problem. Huge numbers of over 65s already volunteer and the report calculates that if people hitting 65 keep donating their time, expertise and experience at the same rate as today’s older population, it’ll be worth the equivalent of billions of pounds to the sector over the next 20 years.

However the report found that many parts of the voluntary sector are not currently ready to grasp this prize with some seeing elderly people more in terms of a looming social care crisis than an invaluable resource. Or they view older volunteers as an army of little old ladies, fulfilling basic tasks but not to be engaged at a more detailed, substantive level.

To counter this the report says there is need for more skilled volunteer roles and consultancy-style internships which will be attractive to people looking for new opportunities to use the store of professional knowledge and experience they have built up over long careers.

This is very much where we at Reach come in. For 35 years we have been providing skilled professional volunteers to a wide range of charities of all types and size and in every part of the UK. We look forward to continuing this work for the years ahead helping to meet the challenges and opportunities for the voluntary sector set out in the report.

Janet Thorne, Reach’s CEO contributed to the work of the Commission as a member of one of its Discussion Groups:

“For us, older people are a huge asset: they offer an abundance of valuable expertise to charities. Older people have breadth of experience, highly developed skills and seasoned judgement; crucially this is accompanied by more stable lifestyles and more time to give.  Almost 40% of our database is made up of older volunteers – and they are almost twice as likely to take up an assignment as younger people, and to stay in the assignment for longer.

We support the findings of the report – especially that charities will need to create interesting and creative opportunities to volunteer if they want to truly harness the potential of this important group. In our experience, charities vary widely in how effective they are at engaging volunteers. Some are poor at recognising the value that volunteers bring whilst others fully appreciate the contribution of their volunteers, and therefore make the most of their skills. Indeed, over 90% of our volunteers are pleased with their placements.”

The research from the report suggests that new generations of over-65s are unlikely to accept the negative stereotypes of life over 70 (think of some charity posters showing lonely and isolated older people) so readily.

Charities and the voluntary sector should be at the forefront of discussing later life as a success story, retraining and recruiting older workers. Decision Time also identifies some important changes from outside the voluntary sector that could help. The Treasury could think about helping individual donors give away their cash as annuity pots are drawn down, for example, and the cabinet office could consider whether reference to “need because of age” in the Charities Act is helpful.

But the voluntary sector must lead the way. There is work to be done.

A retired journalist, Robin now looks after Reach’s press and PR functions on a voluntary basis.
March 23rd, 2015 by