A common problem of long-time volunteer associations, particularly auxiliaries, friends groups, and other membership-type support organizations, is that members have "aged in place." Though they may have started their volunteer careers in middle age, after long service members are now well into their senior years. Once a group has become primarily older (or, for that matter, focused on any one age group rather than spanning many ages), it is very difficult to simply recruit younger members
naturally. This is because over time the organization has adapted to the needs and interests of the majority of its members. Everything from the time and place of meetings, the projects and activities selected, even the way meetings are run, please the bulk of the members but may not attract anyone different.
If there is a sincere desire to diversify the membership, something dramatic must counteract the inertia of "we're used to doing things this way." One idea is to develop a project that consciously skips a generation. Rather than trying to recruit 40-somethings into a group of people over 65, try for 20-somethings. Consciously reach out to those whose attitude about seniors is not fraught with hang-ups over fear of aging, parental relationships, or other obstacles. If members have grandchildren close by, what a wonderful way to help them learn more about
each other. For members without grandchildren or geographically distant from relatives, encourage recruiting any young adults they know (neighbors, congregation members, grandchildren of close friends). Or, find a college sorority/fraternity, corporation with a large number of young employees, or other group interested in a collaboration.
Do not make the young adults "join" your group - at least not right away! First concentrate on a project you can all do together. By recruiting a lot of younger volunteers all at once, you form a bond among them as well as with your veteran members. Allow the new recruits to plan the way they would like to be involved. Enjoy the project itself. When it ends, hold a big meeting to discuss how it went and if there is interest in continuing to work together. Let loyalty to your organization build naturally.
Wonder what your "intergenerational" project might be? Here is a starter list of ideas:
- Create an oral history to give to your library or local historical
society. The younger recruits formulate questions and video or audiotape the interviews; the senior members do the talking.
- Demystify aging for kids. The younger recruits match up with the senior
members around mutual interests (tennis, movie going, bridge playing, walking, etc.) and together give presentations to elementary school classes and youth groups, showing how it's possible to maintain interests for one's
whole life, even if the level of activity changes.
- Hold a fundraising "cross dressing" fashion show. Raid the closets of the older members for clothes from years past. While the younger recruits model the memories, have some game seniors show off today's coolest outfits.
Have fun with this! And you might even attract some of the middle generation, too.