Volunteering in an Ageing Population: research report Oct 2021

People aged 65 or older are active volunteers, devoting triple the time on unpaid activities than people aged 12-24 years, says Volunteering New Zealand.

Time spent volunteering provides a triple win, for the community, organisations and to the individual.

Older people make a significant contribution to our communities through volunteering activities. However, older volunteers and older adults were amongst groups that were significantly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns.

Some older volunteers stopped volunteering, and some were prevented from volunteering because they have more life commitments (such as looking after grandchildren). Although older volunteers can return to volunteering in lower alert levels, there is uncertainty about what this will look like in a post-Covid environment.

Research by Volunteering New Zealand also showed that the effect of the Covid pandemic on volunteering includes:

  • Regional differences have become bolder, and the demographics of some local communities are changing, including our volunteer demographics.
  • Some community organisations have experienced an increase demand for their services, and funding is tracking as one of the biggest issues across the sector.
  • Many organisations and volunteers embraced new technologies and online ways of volunteering.

Benefits of volunteering for older people

Looking more broadly at the extensive array of research on older adults and volunteering, there are significant wellbeing benefits that accrue to older adults through volunteering.

The most common reasons older adults give for engagement in voluntary work are being helpful to others, “paying back” to society, and feeling a sense of obligation to the future generations.

Volunteering can keep older adults active and socially engaged and may help them with some of the challenges (and opportunities) of retirement. Research also shows that volunteering also has positive personal wellbeing outcomes for older adults who volunteer, including improved mental and physical health.

Older volunteers report that volunteering provides:

  • an opportunity to actively participate in society;
  • expanded social networks and connection;
  • and personal growth/ empowerment through learning new skills and knowledge.

Older adult volunteers consistently report an improvement in their quality of life resulting from feeling appreciated, having a sense of purpose, and giving something back to society.

In the light of Covid-19 and its impact on older volunteers, Volunteering New Zealand recommends that:

  • Some existing roles and activities be reworked to align with the new volunteering environment. This will ensure that older volunteers feel safe to return to the volunteering front line.
  • Volunteer-involving organisations ensure they are inclusive, appreciative of older volunteers (amongst all volunteers), and impactful. For example, offer flexible roles matched to the skills, abilities and motivations of older volunteers.

More research about Older Volunteers