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Reinventing Volunteerism: A Fresh Approach to Changing the World

by Mary Quirk, Volunteer Resources Leadership Project Manager, Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration

Retired business CEO Gerry Keymer has broken the mold of traditional volunteering in at least three ways. First, he is a four-year member of the Volunteer Auxiliary Board for St. Cloud Hospital. At the hospital, having a businessman on the auxiliary board is not atypical, as the organization has reinvented the concept of its auxiliary.

Second, Keymer really breaks the mold by being at the forefront of a new trend of volunteers who propose projects. The auxiliary needed to increase the visibility of the hospital to help raise a quarter of a million dollars annually for 35 special causes. Seeing the need, Keymer said, “my business mind went into autopilot. I thought we need to advertise, to tell people who we are and to publicize all the wonderful things we are accomplishing.” He came up with the idea of publishing a yearbook of volunteers, made a small mock-up and brought it to show the auxiliary board. The yearbook has become a very popular and effective publication.

The third way that Keymer has broken the mold is by being part of a trend of volunteer leaders. He trains new volunteers to be hospital Ambassadors. He moved into that role by identifying the need for it. Keymer said, “Since the hospital requires Ambassadors to do so many different tasks, I offered to train new volunteers.”

Passion into Action

People are also reinventing volunteering by putting their passions into action. Minneapolis resident Mary Karen Lynn-Klimenko is currently incubating an idea to use a successful approach for at-risk middle students in the United States to help at-risk students in Ecuador. Crafting an idea from scratch is not new to her. Mary Karen and husband Marcus, with help from many active friends like Therese Pritschet and Lyn Mitchell, created a volunteer project to help low-income Ecuadorian children. For seven successful years, they have organized efforts to raise money for school fees for those children. They also organized groups of families who volunteered to go to Ecuador to provide a summer camp for the students. Lynn-Klimenko’s advice on starting an initiative is to “talk to lots of people, listen, be flexible and stay passionate. When you come up with something meaningful, people will want to be part of it.”

What Volunteers Want

Keymer and Lynn-Klimenko provide just two examples of the many ways individuals are reinventing volunteering. Volunteering is changing now because boomers and the generations that follow are looking for a different type of volunteerism than previous generations. At a recent forum of the Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration, boomer volunteer Sam Shiffman identified what his generation of volunteers wants:

  • Have an impact, improve somethingLearn new things, have intellectual challenges
  • Meet new people, expand networks
  • Participate in mutual selection, obtain a good fit for both agency and volunteer
  • Retain flexibility, work on their own schedules

Organizations Face Retooling to Realize Benefits

The potential benefits to organizations from the new form of volunteerism are significant and especially important in the current economy. The opportunities offer more than additional person power to an organization and include bringing valuable skills into the agency and being able to go from bare-bones services to an enrichment that creative volunteers can add. However, to engage these abundant resources requires organizations to redesign their volunteers’ involvement.

According to a recent research report, Reinventing Aging Baby Boomers and Civic Engagement from the Harvard School of Public Health-MetLife Foundation Initiative on Retirement and Civic Engagement, “The disparity between these dynamic younger older adults and the inadequate landscape of volunteer opportunities will only grow as boomers age; without serious action, organizations may not be able to capitalize on the potential of this critical resource.” Nonprofits and governmental organizations are retooling and need energized volunteers to help shape the new directions.

Organizations need the power of volunteers now more than ever.  If you are looking to volunteer, find out what excites you and turn your passions into action.

Thank you to Terry Straub, Colleen Fritsch, Kelly O’Brien, Janet Jacobson and the MAVA Task Force for Engaging Boomers as Volunteers for contributions on this topic.
The Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration (MAVA) is undertaking an initiative to help organizations build capacity to engage baby boomers as volunteers.

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