At the December meeting of the East Sussex Volunteer Coordinator’s Networking Forum in Seaford participants got together to discuss whether or not increases in the retirement age maybe having a detrimental affect on their ability to recruit older volunteers.

As we all operate in a county where there may well be some assumptions made about the numbers of older volunteers we talked about if this is an issue that is making it more difficult to attract volunteers and if so, what can we do about it?

Firm evidence for any decrease is pretty thin on the ground and statistical evidence based on Community Life Figures from the Institute for Volunteering Research actually indicates that since the default retirement age was abolished in 2011 (it was phased out from April of that year) volunteer rates have uniformly risen for the post 65’s in that time.

In terms of volunteering once a month, once a year, informal or formal there was a rise between 2010/11 and 2012/13 in the age 65+ age group. What is not clear though is if there has been any increased participation in the workforce (i.e. paid employment) by people aged 65 and over.

Most of the participants attending the Forum felt that it has not been significantly harder to recruit older people as volunteers as a result of rises in the retirement age. Although some people did appear to feel that the change in working patterns may begin to mean that people will be less available to volunteer in a more flourishing economy because they are working longer hours until later in life, there was a fairly unanimous feeling that there are other challenges that make it difficult to engage older volunteers.

In particular participants offered anecdotal evidence of many older people having less time on their hands as a result of family commitments; several examples were cited of grandparents taking on caring responsibilities for children due to parents changing working patterns.

There are though opportunities too for recruiting older people as volunteers emerging. This can sometimes arise as a result of challenging life changing circumstances. There is for instance the trend toward many more relationships breaking up than previously and there is a growing number of the population aged 50+ who are discovering that they suddenly have increased time in their life due to the ending of a relationship.

There was also a feeling that some volunteer organisations may need to look at how to tailor more specific recruitment campaigns and initiatives targeted at an older audience and it was also suggested that sometimes voluntary groups make assumptions about the sort of volunteer roles that older people can and cannot fulfill. This was a view that certainly seems to echo comments made by the Chief Executive of The National Trust, Helen Ghosh at a keynote address during a volunteer awards ceremony in 2013; We’ll be looking to increase diversity still further as people’s working lives extend and fewer people have spare time in their retirement. We need to adapt our model to fit in with the lives people lead – people giving us their time on a basis that suits them, whether flexing around school hours or fitting in with their working life”.

Changing the ways we involve volunteers across all age ranges is an on-going debate that affects everyone involved in supporting and engaging volunteers. Even the most cursory glance at the websites of national volunteering infrastructure bodies like NCVO and IVO currently reveals numerous articles drawing into question the future of traditional formal volunteering. Whatever your view it is fairly clear that people’s expectations of volunteering are changing and patterns of volunteer involvement are shifting accordingly. More and more volunteer organsations are recognising the potential value in refocusing on how they engage volunteers with increases in the number of people volunteering from their own homes, or entering into so-called ‘micro volunteering’ for specific roles like assisting with business planning sometimes across a number of groups for a limited period of time.
The Commission on the Voluntary Sector and Ageing have produced an excellent discussion paper called ‘A better offer: The future of volunteering in an ageing society’ that highlights many of these issues and includes a number of challenging questions for everyone working to engage and support volunteers including;

• How can your charity make volunteering more attractive?
• How can you attract the ‘oldest old’ through to the younger generations?
• How can your organisation attract a younger and wider range of volunteers?

We would love to hear your views either in response to those questions or any of the points raised in this blog.

East Sussex Volunteer Coordinator’s Networking Forums are open to anyone working with volunteers wanting the opportunity to learn and talk more about specific volunteering topics as well as offering the chance to meet with other people working with volunteers throughout the county. For more information please contact Volunteer Centre East Sussex’s Volunteering Development Officer, Lee Shepherd on 07535 992 638 or

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