After retiring several years ago as a forensic analyst who specialized in detecting illicit drugs, Fabio Moscher wasn’t sure what he wanted to do next, so he decided to volunteer.
Mr. Moscher, now turning 70, contacted the branch of Habitat for Humanity near his home in Whitby, Ont.
He started taking inventory at the volunteer building organization’s local ReStore, which sells recycled building materials, but with his background in engineering (albeit chemical engineering), his energy and interest in doing more, he ended up going twice to El Salvador with volunteer teams to build houses.
“I get a lot more out of it than just the idea of giving help,” Mr. Moscher says. “I enjoy the company, the people. We all look after each other.”
Mr. Moscher is hardly alone among retired Canadians who volunteer their time and work. But he’s not in the majority, either. According to Statistics Canada, only 36 per cent of Canada’s seniors put in volunteer time in 2010, a lower percentage than any other age group.
Aging and declining health may be partly responsible for seniors’ relatively low participation rate. There are also structural, psychological and business-related barriers that inhibit retirees from doing more, Adele Robertson says.
Ms. Robertson, a Toronto resident in her 70s, started a consulting business called The V Generation that advises businesses and not-for-profits how to get the most out of volunteers.
“Over the years I observed that people in the corporate sector who retired got past the ‘honeymoon’ stage and entered the ‘disillusion’ stage,” says Ms. Robertson, who worked as a corporate sponsorship director at Toronto’s Harbourfront before retiring in 2000.
“People get very lost. A lot of people lose their sense of self worth. For years they have been wrapped up in their careers and that’s who they think they are.
“It dawned on me that lots of people are retiring and don’t know what to do with themselves. Also, the voluntary sector was not as well-prepared as it could be for what to do with new volunteers,” she says.
Indeed, a 2012 survey of Ontario by Volunteer Canada, a national umbrella group for the sector, found that 19 per cent of individuals interviewed said they did not know how to get involved as volunteers, 21 per cent did not get the results they expected and 19 per cent said they felt underutilized. While not all the volunteers surveyed in the report were retirees, Ms. Robertson believes that older Canadians are a rich, untapped resource.
“We work with both corporations and not-for-profits, with groups of five to eight people,” she explains. Ms. Robertson’s pitch to the corporate sector is that keeping retired workers happy and productive, while off the payroll, helps minimize costs to the employer’s retiree benefit plan.
“From a corporate point of view, a lot of companies spend a lot on acquisition and retention of employees, but not a lot on when they leave except to pay out benefits,” she says.
For the not-for-profits, the benefits are obvious – they get experienced help. Organizations can be more strategic about how they use retiree volunteers, Ms. Robertson adds.
“You might have been an accountant all your life and they shove you in a place where you work with numbers. But it may be a part of your own value system that you always wanted to work with disenfranchised youth, or aboriginals.”
When engaged by a company or a not-for-profit, V Generation works with small groups of prospective volunteers, meeting with them and having them fill out online questionnaires to help them figure out what they would most like to do.
“We don’t place people; we direct them,” Ms. Robertson says. Her company helps volunteers to learn how to speak up when “the not-for-profits interview the volunteer and put them in the job they need and not what they want.
“A lot of people are too polite to say they don’t want to work in the gift shop of a museum, they want to resurrect their old interest in anthropology, and get to label artifacts.”
There are other direct ways for retirement-age Canadians to volunteer their services. For example, CESO (Canadian Executive Service Organization), founded in 1967, places retired executives around the world to promote economic and community growth.
Its volunteers have completed more than 46,000 assignments across Canada and in more than 120 countries, working in the Americas, Asia, Africa and with Canada’s aboriginal peoples.
In some circumstances there also can be tax benefits to volunteering. For example, a portion of Mr. Moscher’s volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity counts as a charitable donation.
“People don’t always realize that volunteering can be more than sitting on a board of directors or licking stamps,” Ms. Robertson says. “As our population ages there’s going to be more and more need for volunteers, because our social services just can’t keep up.”