Paid Volunteerism -
An Oxymoron Whose Time Has Come

One of the main tenets of the "Platinum Years Network" is that the onslaught of boomers into their the so-called "retirement years" will have a huge impact on our culture. Many of us still have a lot to contribute, and a lot of us are a little short in our retirement funding. Both of these factors contribute to the statistic that I often repeat here, that over 80% of boomers do not plan to retire in the way our parents did, and many of us do not plan to ever retire in the traditional sense.

Now comes an article from Yahoo Finance via the New York Times that illustrates one of the first cultural changes brought about by boomers. Entitled "For Love and a Little Money," this article describes a rapidly growing trend toward "paid volunteerism" that I predict will snowball into a cultural norm. In many cases, such volunteers need some compensation to make up a retirement income shortfall, or perhaps build a war chest against the time when work will become impossible. But often, according to the article, it's simply a matter of insuring that their services are valued.

"Many retirees have learned, to their irritation, that what they give free is discounted as fluff. Ten years ago, Fabianne Wolff Gershon, now a retired public relations executive, did a pro bono marketing plan for a local botanical garden. It was never carried out. 'I made a mental note: If they had paid for the report, they would have taken it seriously,' Ms. Gershon said."
There are other stories of retirees, even those with rich skill sets and broad business experiences, having similar experiences, being assigned filing and envelope stuffing jobs that they found demeaning and unappreciated.

I encountered this phenomenon first hand during a twelve year stint as Treasurer of my church. At the time, we offered counselling services as an outreach to our community, as well as to our membership. But the counsellors soon realized that "pro bono" clients were much more likely to cancel or miss their appointments than "pay" clients. Too many people equated "free" to "of little or no value."

We even found that sometimes areas that staffed by volunteers would have increasing needs that would at some point exceed what could be handled by volunteer labor. At that point, we found it beneficial to first approach the volunteers with offers of a stipend for the extra hours. If this was handled discretely and sensitively, it often resulted in a transition from a "free" volunteer to a "discount" staff member who would then take on more formal and official responsibilities.

You regular Platinum readers will not be surprised that this article also liberally quotes Marc Freedman, author of our Platinum recommended book, Encore: Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life. Yet another reason to head over to Yahoo Finance and stay on the cutting edge of this important trend. - Bob


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