Guide to Volunteering in Retirement
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You’ve retired (or are about to, or hope to one day) – congratulations!
Volunteering is a great way to get the most out of this next chapter in your life. If you’re looking for “places to volunteer near me”, you’re in the right spot.
More than 14,000 people in the Twin Cities volunteer as part of Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity’s mission each year and hundreds of them are retirees. We’d love to have you volunteer too. But if you’re just looking for information right now, don’t worry - we won’t pressure you into anything. We want to help you find the position that is just right for you, even if it’s not with us.
We’ll start by explaining the benefits volunteering can have on your health, quality of life, connectedness to others, and sense of purpose, claims now backed by science. Volunteering keeps your mind sharp and can be a great way to develop new skills.
Further down this guide you’ll learn how to identify the best volunteering opportunities for you. Ranging from the importance of mission alignment, how you can develop new skills, or maybe how you can support our community with a great skill you already have. You may also like to read personal stories from people who found a rewarding retirement volunteering gig.
We’ll cover resources for finding a volunteer position and FAQs about getting involved. Finally, we have recommended next steps for you to take on your journey into volunteerism in retirement. You’re hired. Congratulations!
At Twin Cities Habitat, safety is always our number one priority for volunteers. This includes keeping people safe from COVID. Here is our COVID volunteer policy that gets updated regularly for your review.
Benefits of Retiree Volunteering
There are so many ways volunteering improves your quality of life. There is a lot of evidence, (both anecdotal and scientific) that volunteering helps to stave off boredom, extend your life, and fill people with a sense of purpose. This last one is a big deal, because many people (whether they like it or not) derive their sense of purpose from their work. Volunteering is a lower-stress way of replacing your job with something you feel passionate about.
Because COVID-19 most seriously impacts older people or those with underlying health conditions, it’s important to consider how an organization is handling the safety of volunteers before signing up to help.
At this point, the physical and mental health benefits of volunteering are well documented. Giving your time to help others is linked to lower levels of depression symptoms, psychological distress, and increased functional ability. One study found that people who volunteered at least 200 hours over the past year were less likely to develop hypertension.
Giving (either time or money) makes us feel good, which is good for us. That warm fuzzy feeling is like medicine for our souls.
For many people, isolation is a real threat as we age. This has only gotten worse as we try to keep ourselves healthy through the pandemic. Volunteering safely is a smart way to build social interaction and relationships into your new routine.
Volunteering regularly helps develop new friendships. You’ll meet people who are in a similar boat and share a passion for the cause you choose to support. Twin Cities Habitat is blessed to have several Regular Crews of volunteers who work together often, some once a month and others multiple times a week. The people on these crews have tight relationships and feel a level of support and connectedness that is hard to come by in a normal job.
When you’re weighing potential volunteer opportunities, consider what level of social interaction you want. There are volunteer positions for people whether you are an introvert or extrovert, or something in between. You can even customize your experience to what you want: say you’re a woman who wants to volunteer with other women who strive to foster an inclusive build environment - you can do that!
Volunteering in a thrift store (like a Habitat ReStore) can provide you with options for selecting your preferred level of social interaction. You can opt for customer service or running the checkout if you want to work with a lot of people, or you can handle merchandise or pricing if you’d prefer to be behind the scenes.
However you choose to do it, giving back to our community is an important part of a balanced life. Some people see it as a way of putting their faith into action. The Twin Cities ranks high for the number of community aid measures there are but we are also a community of great inequality. Deciding that there is a social cause you care about, acting on it, and having an impact is a powerful journey to travel.
Develop New Skills
Our brains need regular stimulation to stay sharp and learning something new in retirement is a great way to do it. Often people take up new hobbies or travel to broaden their horizons. Volunteering can offer the same benefits.
A well-run volunteering experience can put you just a little outside of your comfort zone and allow you to grow in ways you may not have been able to in your job. A woman named Susan began baking cookies and bringing them to Twin Cities Habitat worksites more than 20 years ago. Then she started volunteering on sites regularly. Today she’s comfortable running power tools and just about everything else that’s required to build a home.
Many organizations that work with volunteers have orientation videos of what you can expect. Here’s the one we use at Twin Cities Habitat.
If you really want to develop new skills, you could consider AmeriCorps, open to service members of all ages with an emphasis on retirees. AmeriCorps Members receive a stipend, lots of training, and commit to a term of service (usually a year, but shorter assignments are available too). AmeriCorps Members also get money to use towards education purposes at the end of their time of service. Additionally, members who fall within the 55+ category can donate their education award at the end of their service term to their children, grandchildren, and/or foster children.
Have Purpose and Create a Legacy
A job does not define a person - but it can provide a sense of purpose. As we age, having a sense of purpose and fulfillment can become more difficult to achieve. Again, volunteering can help!
Why do you get up in the morning? If it was because the alarm clock told you to so you could start work on time, then volunteering may be the next logical step. Hopefully you’re financially secure enough in your retirement that you can now focus some time and energy on making our community a better place or pursuing your passions. The monetary reward you used to receive will be replaced with an internal sense that you matter and you are making a difference.
You may feel like the decades you spent working have already defined what your life will be. But this is a new chapter and a new chance to write the story of who you are. You can still have a tremendous impact beyond what you’ve already accomplished in your life. Now may be a good time to begin thinking about the legacy you are building, as well. How would you like to be remembered? How can you spend your time to make an impact? If you have always loved animals or kids but your work didn’t revolve around either, now you can dedicate time to those.
Even if you haven’t retired yet, now is the time to act. The benefits of volunteerism are not exclusively reserved for retirees. Finding something that you like doing now, for whatever amount of time you’re able to give, is an enjoyable way to transition into something you may want to do more of in retirement.
How Do I Identify the Right Volunteering Opportunities Near Me?
You’re sold on the idea of volunteering, glad we could help get you there. The next step is figuring out where the right place is for you. We’d love to have you at Twin Cities Habitat and believe we have a position for everyone, but we want to help you find the position that is just right for you, even if it’s not with us. Here are some reflective questions to ask yourself as you begin your search.
- How much do you want to be challenged?
- What new skill would you like to learn?
- Do you have a skill already that you’d like to put to use as a volunteer?
- Do you want to volunteer once in a while when it fits into your life?
- Or do you want to have a set schedule so you have a routine and something to look forward to?
- Do you want to volunteer on your own or work as part of a team?
- How much do you want to be interacting with new people?
- Do you want to be inside, outside, or a mix of both?
- Would you rather be working at a computer?
- Would you rather be doing something more physical?
The questions above will help you get a sense of what you’re looking for. Once you start narrowing your search down to specific organizations that you may be interested in volunteering with, here are some things to consider and inquire about.
Does the organization prioritize safety for its volunteers? What is its policy around COVID? Does the organization have other established policies that volunteers are expected to know and follow?
Is there a certain level of commitment you need to sign up for before you begin volunteering? Some organizations are very flexible, and some need to be able to plan for their volunteers well in advance so they make sure all their work is covered. Ask before you start and be clear about what you can offer. Don’t try to impress an organization by making a huge commitment upfront. Instead, see if you can start at a lower commitment and ramp it up if you find that it’s something you like doing a lot.
Find out if volunteerism is seasonal for the organization, or if things are different in the winter versus the summer. (Twin Cities Habitat does rely on volunteers all year round and has a special Winter Warriors program to recognize people.) Are you a snow bird? The Habitat family has more than 1,500 affiliates in the U.S. While we have volunteer opportunities all year round in Minnesota, if you find yourself leaving the state for the winter keep an eye out for a Habitat near your new location.
A smaller organization may rely on volunteers to do a lot of the work. This means your volunteerism comes with more autonomy but it also means you’ll likely be supported less if you do need help with something. Try to get a sense for how organized the volunteer department or person in charge of volunteers is so you find a good match for you.
Since you’re getting rewarded in warm fuzzies instead of money, it’s important that you believe strongly in the job you’re volunteering to do. It’s wise to do some research on the mission you will be a part of even if you’ve volunteered with the organization in the past. The odds are high that they send out regular emails or post things to social media that you can look through. You may find that there are parts of it that appeal to you more than others, and you’ll want to make it clear where you want to focus your time and energy if that’s the case.
Where to Start Looking
The Twin Cities consistently rank near the top in terms of communities engaged in volunteerism. One recent study found Minneapolis and St. Paul tied for first in the country in terms of the percentage of people who volunteer. Even so, there is plenty of need for more people to lend a hand. To begin your search, here are four resources you can check out:
- Twin Cities Habitat's Volunteer page includes construction and non-construction opportunities.
- VolunteerMatch.org will show you volunteer opportunities in your community, right down to your ZIP code.
- Find a Volunteers of America office near you using their online tool.
- AmeriCorps has a special site devoted to helping seniors find organizations where they can serve.
FAQs About Retiree Volunteering
Have questions? These FAQs primarily relate to volunteering with Twin Cities Habitat but may be helpful as you consider other options too.
- Do I have to wait for retirement?
- No! Start now if you can. More and more companies offer volunteer time off (VTO) and you should take advantage of that if your company does.
- Do I have to have a group of friends to volunteer with?
- No! You can volunteer individually. You may even build some new friendships along the way. If you would like to get seeded into a regular crew for instant friends– let us know and we do this for you!
- Do I need experience to volunteer? For example, a Twin Cities Habitat home build?
- No! You don’t need a specific skill set to help out (at least not at Twin Cities Habitat). We’ll help you get the knowledge you need and volunteer safety will always be our top priority.
- Are there leadership opportunities?
- Yes! Most organizations will give as much responsibility to a volunteer as they’re able to handle. For instance, Twin Cities Habitat looks for crew leaders to help organize volunteers and support Site Supervisors in building.
- Can I volunteer all year long?
Yes! Twin Cities Habitat keeps volunteers engaged (and outfitted with warm swag) through the Winter Warriors program.
After identifying the right opportunity, simply reach out to the organization and let them know what you’re interested in. They should be excited that you’ve reached out and will get you the information you need from there. If you think Twin Cities Habitat is right for you, please contact us through our volunteer page or check out all the ways to get involved in our mission.