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An Age Old Tale… Striving to Engage Senior Volunteers

Posted By Kelly Devries, Outreach Coordinator, March-03-16
Updated: March-02-16
 Senior woman smiling

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

In Toronto, there are many seniors who want to volunteer and many non-profits wanting to engage them. So how can we make this happen? In the summer of 2015 Volunteer Toronto conducted several focus groups to learn more about what seniors are looking for in a volunteer opportunity and some of the barriers they experience. 


From that research I’ve found 7 key things for non-profits to remember when striving to engage senior volunteers:

1) Seniors have a lot of expertise to offer

Many seniors have worked for 35+ years and have a lot of professional and personal expertise to offer. Make sure to have roles that recognize the wealth of experience seniors can bring to your organization.

2) Seniors aren’t a homogenous group

Seniors can range in age from 55 to 105 years old and can encompass vast cultural backgrounds, experiences, abilities and knowledge. Ensure that you are acknowledging the diversity of seniors in your recruitment and that you aren’t acting on misperceptions.    

3) Seniors may want flexibility in their role

Non-profits have a notion that senior volunteers will be the most consistent for scheduling and commitments. Remember to recognize that seniors want flexibility to accommodate things like travel, babysitting grandkids, health concerns and more. Offering flexibility in your volunteer positions will allow seniors to actively engage in their volunteer position and their personal life.

4) Seniors may require special accommodation

Some seniors may need physical accommodation in their volunteer position including being able to sit instead of stand, not being expected to carry heavy supplies, a quiet work-space to be able to hear well, additional training and more. If you want to engage more senior volunteers you should ensure that you are able to provide proper accommodation as needed.

5) Seniors may have trouble with the bureaucracy of the application process (especially if everything is done online)

 Over the past 20 years, the volunteer recruitment & screening process has mostly moved online and for some folks this has made the process more challenging. Provide alternative methods for seniors to find out about and apply to volunteer opportunities, such as mailed newsletters and in-person application forms.

6) Seniors may not have a recent resume or cover letter

Asking for a cover letter and resume may discourage a senior who has been out of the workforce for 15 years from applying for your position. Consider asking for a self-assessment of skills, or highlights of experience.

7) Seniors want to be respected for their age

One of the largest takeaways from the focus groups was that seniors want to be respected for their age and experience. Recognize that seniors have a lot to offer and respect all that they do, while accommodating any particular needs they have from the point of life they are in.

I’ll be discussing this topic in greater detail with volunteer managers and coordinators from across the city at the March 9 VECTor Conference. Learn more about my Discussion Circle here and register for VECTor here!


Kelly DeVries is Volunteer Toronto's Community Engagement Coordinator. She coordinates a team of hardworking volunteers who represent Volunteer Toronto at community events. She is the voice of our Volunteer Times newsletter and assists the many events and programs we organize to inspire people in Toronto to volunteer.

Tags:  active seniors  how to engage senior volunteers  misconceptions about seniors  retired volunteers  seniors  working with senior volunteers 

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