Sarah Ford | January 27, 2015

As older volunteers leave, who will replace them?

Dorothy Johnson has been a bedrock volunteer in rural Braham, Minn., since she retired from finance in 1997. She helped raise money for the new $2 million community center and has been volunteer treasurer of her church and the local food shelf for more than 15 years. Now, at 84, Johnson is ready to hand over the reins.

But attracting a solid base of younger helpers in her town of 1,800 has been tough.

Reliable, longtime volunteers, who were shaped by the Great Depression and WWII, are dying or getting too old to do the work. Baby boomers aren’t stepping in to fill their shoes — at least not in the same way.

“The people doing the volunteering are elderly,” Johnson said. “We can’t get the new ones because they have to continue to work and support themselves.”

Many boomers are working beyond the traditional retirement age, and have little time to give. That’s not the only issue, however.

They’re willing to volunteer, but they want flexibility, work that taps into their skills and evidence that they’ve made a difference — not things previous volunteers needed.

“Everyone is scrambling,” said Mary Quirk, executive director of the Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration. “Boomers and millennials are looking for something different from what organizations are providing.”

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