Recruiting & Engaging Older Adults

Recruiting older volunteers provides an advantage for your organization because they have the time, skills, knowledge, and social networks to make meaningful contributions to non-profits. In addition, the evidence clearly shows that volunteering with organizations related to the environment contributes to the well-being of older adults themselves. So, how can your organization go about recruiting and working with older volunteers?

A growing cadre of retired volunteers are looking for work that captures their imaginations and capitalizes on their skills and knowledge. Think broadly about the ways volunteers can contribute to your organization.

It’s important to pay attention to older volunteers’ motivations, which – as with volunteers of any age – vary with each individual. Some people may be looking for social connections, while others may more interested in tapping into the skills and knowledge they used in their careers.

Taking the time to consider which roles older adults can fill in your organization, and then finding people whose skills and interests match those roles will provide you volunteers with fulfilling experiences and help your organization better accomplish its mission.


They are many avenues for recruiting older volunteers. Reaching out to local senior centers, assisted living facilities, and churches in your area. Consider giving a presentation about your organization or visiting during a social hour. 

Because many retired volunteers don’t readily identify themselves as senior citizens, it’s helpful to broaden your search. Ask your current volunteers to suggest potential candidates and utilize online resources including social networking sites, such as LinkedIn, and other online platforms set up specifically to match volunteers with organizations, such as Retired and Senior Volunteer Program and Volunteer Match.

A personal link or interaction with an existing volunteer is one of the best ways to connect with any volunteer. Recruit current volunteers to sing the praises of your organization and answer the questions of potential candidates.

Tout the benefits your organization can provide to older adults, such as helping them to increase their community connections, feel productive, improving their life satisfaction, or leaving a legacy for the younger generations.

Consider providing multiple ways for older adults to apply, such as online and paper applications. Be sure your organization is ready to respond to interested candidates with informational materials and assign a staff member to respond to inquiries.

Working with older adult volunteers

Once you’ve identified and recruited volunteers, it is important to think about providing them with a positive experience. This begins with a dialogue to best understand the volunteers interests and motives. Strive to create an environment where older volunteers feel heard, respected, and valued through open communication.

Older volunteers may have physical or other limitations. Do your best to make it comfortable for the volunteers to explain their limitations, and then find ways to work around them. Try to think creatively and out of the box. Focus on each volunteer’s strengths and work to find a position that capitalizes on those. 

Providing adequate training is an important step in acclimating volunteers to their roles and providing both the volunteer and the organization an opportunity to make sure the position in a good fit. Training also helps to define expectations for the role and ensure that the volunteer has a successful experience.

By giving some thought to recruiting and working with older adults, your organization can tap into a large and growing pool of potential volunteers with the knowledge and skills to help further your mission.

Ten steps to working with older adults

Think it through.

Consider the types of assignments and roles you would like volunteers to fill at your agency. How can volunteers of all ages best help you to accomplish your mission? Having a plan ready before starting to recruit volunteers will help you to find people who best fit your needs.


Interview your volunteers.

Talk with all prospective volunteers, regardless of age, about their skills and experience so that you can make the most of their strengths. Also find out if there are any tasks they are not comfortable or unable to perform. Be careful not to make assumptions about physical or other limitations simply because of a volunteer’s age. Try not to revert to assigning older volunteers “busy work.”


Be specific.

Provide a job description to each volunteer that explains the expectations for the role; this will help the person determine whether they can fill the position. Include specific physical job requirements.


Collect important information.

Require all volunteers to fill out a form that includes information on medical conditions, medications they take, and emergency contact information.


Be flexible.

If you have older volunteers with specific limitations, talk with them about how you can modify tasks rather than prevent them from volunteering with your organization.


Offer training.

Provide an orientation and appropriate training for senior volunteers. Every volunteer needs information about what you expect, as well as resources available to help them succeed while working for you.


Schedule breaks.

Plan for rest time for volunteers working more than two hours at time or anyone engaging in physical labor. Encourage volunteers to let you know when they need more frequent breaks.


Build teams.

Educate all of your volunteers how to work with people of all ages. If a volunteer position has a steep learning curve, pair new volunteers with someone more experienced who can act as a mentor. But make sure that no one in your organization talks down to new volunteers just because they are older. Gently encourage questions and make certain all your volunteers know “there is no such thing as a dumb question.”


Respect their schedules.

Do your best to keep volunteer commitments flexible. Just because a volunteer is older does not mean they don’t have other obligations.


Be patient.

An older adult whose memory “isn’t what it used to be” can still make important contributions to your organization. You may need to make dispensations mature volunteers, but chances are you will reap the benefits of a dedicated individual who believes in your mission.