Intergenerational volunteering benefits everyone

Volunteers of all ages

I learned today that June 1 was Intergenerational Day here in Canada, so I missed the best time to write about intergenerational volunteering.

As the old saying goes, “the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago; the next best time is now.” As I’m a huge fan of intergenerational volunteering, I’ll write about it now.

It was the experience I had running a bingo game at my grandmother’s care home that first got me involved in volunteering. The regular person wasn’t able to make it, and everyone was disappointed that it was going to be cancelled.

No one wanted to run it themselves, as then they couldn’t play and I was visiting my grandma, so I offered to do it. It seemed simple enough, even for my 11-year-old self. The appreciation (and the cookies) I received for such an easy act turned me into a life-long volunteer.

And that is the power of intergenerational volunteering.

There is a lot of talk about diversity in the social impact sector, but little of that talk centres on age diversity. One of the most valuable aspects of having a diverse volunteer force is its ability to bring different viewpoints, experiences and insights to the issues that the organization faces.

Diversity in age is a vital part of that. People of different age groups can share their different skills and understandings for the benefit of everyone.

Intergenerational volunteering creates a unique platform for sharing wisdom and experience

Older volunteers, who often possess a wealth of life experiences, can offer the learnings from those experiences to younger volunteers. Younger volunteers, who can bring energy and fresh ideas, can help older volunteers see and disrupt long-standing biases, or “we’ve always done it this way” thinking.

This intergenerational exchange of insights enhances the organization’s mission, and fosters personal growth for everyone.

Innovation and creativity thrive when generations come together

I’ve seen it over and over again. A group of people have a great idea, but don’t have the practical life experience to implement it. Another group has the practical experience, but have run out of fresh ideas. While this isn’t always drawn along generational lines, it usually is. Bringing the two groups together in such a way that they can collaborate will spark breakthrough solutions to challenges, or start innovative projects that can make a massive difference to an organization.

Intergenerational volunteering strengthens communities

Having different generations working together collaboratively toward a common goal builds relationships and fosters respect that will continue outside the organization. When volunteers form meaningful connections with people of different generations, the community as a whole is strengthened.

Young volunteers gain an understanding of the challenges faced by older adults, and may have solutions for some of those challenges. Older volunteers learn about the aspirations and concerns of younger people, and may have advice to share with them. Everyone benefits.

As with all other types, age diversity enhances the sustainability of the organization.

Most social impact organizations rely on a large pool of volunteers to advance their mission. Intergenerational volunteering offers a sustainable solution by tapping into the diverse talents and resources of multiple age groups. While younger volunteers often bring energy and fresh perspectives, older volunteers generally provide stability and reliability. Together, they create a balanced and resilient volunteer base that can enhance the long-term sustainability of the organization.

Intergenerational volunteering is powerful.

It harnesses the collective insights, experiences and energies of people from different age groups to further social causes. I have experienced first-hand the positive impact it can have on the organization, the clients and the volunteers themselves. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to embrace the idea.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Karen Knight has provided volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations for more than 25 years.

Her professional life has spanned many industries, working in both the private and public sectors in various leadership positions.

Through her passion for making a difference in the world, she has gained decades of experience in not-for-profits as a leader and a board member.

Karen served in Toastmasters International for more than 25 years, in various roles up to district director, where she was responsible for one of the largest Toastmasters districts in the world.

She oversaw a budget of $250,000 and 300 individual clubs with more than 5,000 members. She had 20 leaders reporting directly to her and another 80 reporting to them—all volunteers.

Karen currently serves as vice-president of the board of directors for the Kamloops Therapeutic Riding Association.

After many years working and volunteering with not-for-profits, she found many leaders in the sector have difficulty with aspects of volunteer programs, whether in recruiting the right people, assigning those people to roles that both support the organization’s mission and in keeping volunteers enthusiastic.

Using hands-on experience, combined with extensive study and research, she helps solve challenges such as volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations.

Karen Knight can be contacted at [email protected], or through her website at https://karenknight.ca/.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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