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  • 5-Minute Article
  • |
  • Nov 12, 2018

5 Steps to Volunteering in Retirement

How to find an experience that’s right for you.

Cynthia Shockley, 68, had recently retired when she read an article in her local newspaper. It was about the Johnston County, N.C., court system’s Guardian ad Litem program, which trains community volunteers to advocate for abused and neglected children’s best interests in court. The program needed more volunteers.

After a career as a business intelligence manager in federal government contracting, Shockley thought her analytical research skills and team management experience might be a plus for this role. She applied, was interviewed and accepted, and completed 30 hours of advocate training.

“I felt compelled to pay it back,” she says. “I had a very fortunate professional career and life, and I can be an objective, fact-finding type of person. Those two things combined to make this feel like the right thing to do.”

Since then, Shockley has been assigned to six children’s cases. “It’s not for the faint-hearted,” she admits, “but it can be very, very rewarding.”

Shockley is among the nearly one-quarter of Americans age 65 and over who volunteer, and the cumulative effect is huge: one million volunteers, contributing 1.9 billion combined hours of service worth $54.4 billion.1

If sharing time and expertise as a volunteer is a part of your retirement plans, these five steps can help you find the right opportunity – one that delivers meaningful work and a good fit.

Identify Your Interests and Strengths

List what you have to offer as well as what you hope to gain by volunteering. Some individuals want to volunteer in a field related to their professional experience, perhaps by serving on a board of trustees or as an advisor. Others seek something entirely new.

To clarify your skills, talents and passions, ask yourself questions like these:

  • What have I excelled at during my career?
  • What kinds of projects have been most fulfilling for me and why?
  • What types of pursuits or accomplishments am I most proud of?
  • In my job, what did I like and dislike?
  • How do I like to spend my time?
  • What have I always wished I could devote more time to?
  • Lastly, ask friends what others find unique about you. A friend might identify a skill you never realized you had.

Evaluate Organizations to Find One Right for You

As you consider and compare volunteer opportunities, delve deeper into each organization's primary goals to find the best fit. Its mission statement, for example, will highlight what the organization hopes to achieve and the methods it uses to do so. If possible, begin planning now, and adapt your plan as you begin your countdown to retirement.

Do some online research and check CharityNavigator, which evaluates charitable and nonprofit groups for financial health, accountability, and transparency. You can use the site’s volunteer search page to create a list of charities by state or city that match interests.

For each organization on your list, explore its website and learn about its volunteer policies. You also should review its annual reports for details about governance and financial stability, such as sources of income, expenditures, assets, liabilities, and endowments. For final contenders, consider planning a visit to learn more about needs and assess the fit in person.

Connect to Many Resources

Mention your interest in volunteering to professional and personal contacts, including alumni and trade associations, to gather ideas. Look online, too, at resources like these:

  • Retired Brains. Search by keyword for local organizations that need specific talents. A perfect niche may be found among listings for volunteer photographers, amateur radio operators, horseback riding enthusiasts, conflict resolution coaches, and more, alongside more traditional volunteer opportunities.
  • Volunteer Match. This nonprofit connects potential volunteers to more than 120,000 community-based organizations. Choose among groups working with animals, veterans, schools, the environment, hunger, and homelessness, to mention a few.
  • Catchafire.org. This website connects volunteers to virtual pro-bono endeavors that are limited in scope. From accounting to writing, the searchable database includes options for nearly every professional skill. Choose between finite projects and one-hour phone calls, then browse the nonprofit or social enterprise opportunities for a match.
  • Senior Corps. Tap into a government-administered network of volunteers helping others and fostering civic engagement. Senior Corps volunteers provide academic support, mentoring, elder care, disaster support, and more.
  • Volunteer.gov. This site partners with nine federal agencies to list various types of volunteer opportunities at U.S. national parks, monuments, forests, trails, and other public lands.


Clarify Your Role

As you research and discover volunteer programs and organizations that interest you, prepare a list of questions to ask each one before moving forward. Your questions should be designed to ensure that your goals and those of the organizations align, and that the skills and talents you want to contribute match with the role.

Express Your Preferences

Though career experience may be an assumed path, it’s okay to let volunteer organizers know that your preference is to do something different. Be sure to clarify the time commitment involved and how long a volunteer post may last. If volunteering for a month each summer isn’t possible, for instance, simply say so up front.

Plan for More

Do you already have a cause (or causes) that you feel passionate about? If volunteering is an important goal in retirement, discuss plans with your financial professional. He or she can ensure your retirement income strategy – including having enough guaranteed income to meet essential expenses – aligns with your vision.