A New Wrinkle for Civic Engagement of Seniors

According to a report, The New Volunteer Workforce (2009), non-profits “desperately” need volunteers; yet every year volunteers are leaving their posts in growing numbers. To stem this tide, the report included as one of its suggestions a “hybrid” plan of providing stipends for volunteers.

I spent hours volunteering, doing many things I used to do as a professional but receiving no pay–only the joy of feeling that I was contributing to society. With the downward spiraling economy, I began to resent volunteering. I felt guilty since after all, wasn’t this the time to give back, to feel grateful for all that I had received over my life?

Then something amazing happened that turned everything around. Robert Carter, CEO of the Senior Friendship Centers in Florida, and Dennis Stover, Vice President, invited me to work on a short-term project as a “workateer.” They offered me a small amount of money and coined the phrase. According to Dennis Stover, “workateering” is a concept that bridges “the experienced worker to the volunteer role and adds value and benefit to what volunteers are providing organizations. A small stipend is paid for the work the volunteer does.” It provides a transition from paid work to volunteering. Hence– work with some dollars attached connects the person with past professional life while beginning a life of mostly volunteering one’s skills and talents. Stover continues, “We hope this ‘hybrid’ concept adds to the discussion of how we approach volunteerism as we look to Boomers retiring and wanting purpose in their next life phase.”

Did this make a difference to me? You bet it did. I feel like a professional, that my work is valued, and that I am still a player. I think this is a concept that could really change the way volunteers see themselves. It would be a win-win situation. Volunteers would feel important to the organization, and organizations would get increased productivity—and all for very little money.

Nancy K. Schlossberg

The first “workateer” for the Senior Friendship Centers
Author, Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping Your Identity, Relationships, and Purpose

The New Volunteer Workforce, (Winter, 2009). David Eisner, Robert T. Grimm Jr., Shannon Maynard, & Susannah Washburn. Stanford Social Innovation Review