Age of Opportunity19 Jan 2015
‘The country is experiencing a huge demographic shift. By 2033 nearly a quarter of the population will be over 65 years old (presenting) a significant challenge and opportunity for charities, funders, social enterprises and voluntary organisations.’ (The Age of Opportunity, NPC and ILC)
Since this statement in April 2014, we cannot open the paper or our emails without being reminded that the age profile of our society is changing and the effect this will have on service provision. Indeed this is such a ‘hot potato’ today’s inbox had invitations to three events to discuss the issue of an ageing society.
However, for me, the title ‘Age of Opportunity’ resonates so much better than the negative stereotypes of bed blocking, crisis in care, and the idea that an increase of older people naturally correlates with a drain on society.
The Npf Synergy reports ‘The New Alchemy’ point out that we will have an older population who are, in the main, both more cash and time rich, but with this come some obstacles that will mean we need to connect with people much more on their own terms. They remind us that, with older people taking on more caring responsibilities, especially for grandchildren but also other dependents, and working longer, we need to think differently on how we utilise their spare time and skills, especially around volunteering.
In the voluntary sector we have traditionally relied on this unpaid workforce to fill gaps on a regular and substantial basis – our challenge is to understand that we need to work differently. We will have to be flexible in our ask, recognising that people will have a journey of giving throughout their lifetimes that will reflect their particular circumstances at any given age. At some point in our lives we will be more able to donate money than time, and for other times it will be the other way round.
Recognising this journey and working with fundraising colleagues will help us to make the relationship with those donors of time and money deeper and more meaningful. Couple this with an approach that looks at the skills we need to support our work, and the skills people are offering, could be exciting for the voluntary sector if we only see this as an opportunity rather than a problem that things are changing.
The 21st century volunteer will be more discerning, they will want to know that their contribution – whether financial or physical - is being used wisely and appreciated. If we get it right, these people will be our voices into our communities and build us a reputation that no leaflet or advertising campaign can achieve.
Sonia Douek is Head of volunteering and community development at Jewish Care and has developed a strategy for the organisation that has seen the growth of volunteers in the organisation reach 3,000 people.