Ask the Expert: Andrea S. Taylor, Ph.D. — Baby Boomer Volunteers


Andrea S. Taylor, Ph.D., of Temple University's Center for Intergenerational Learning, in Philadelphia

Andrea Taylor, Ph.D., is the director of Youth Development and Family Support at Temple University’s Center for Intergenerational Learning. She serves as developer, investigator, and co-investigator of several projects that involve intergenerational mentoring as an approach to positive youth development and the prevention of school failure, substance abuse, and early or repeat teen pregnancies. Dr. Taylor holds a master’s degree in urban education and a doctorate in sociology from Temple University.

Dr. Taylor provides consultation, training, and technical assistance to a variety of private, non-profit organizations; universities; school districts; and federal and state agencies. She currently serves on the Executive Panel on Youth Mentoring, coordinated by the Office of Juvenile Justice, and on the National Research Summit Panel on Mentoring, coordinated by MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership. Dr. Taylor is also a senior research associate with Temple University’s Institute for Survey Research and is involved in studies of programs designed to prevent tobacco use by adolescents.

She has published numerous articles specific to intergenerational mentoring and substance abuse prevention. She is the author of Mentoring Across Generations: Partnerships for Positive Youth Development (2000. Kluwer/Plenum Press).

Recruiting Baby Boomers with Just the Right Message: Weaving Service into the Tapestry of Their Lives

It seems at every turn recently we are bombarded with information and speculation about that eclectic group of individuals born between the years of 1946 and 1964, popularly referred to as the baby boomers. The boomers have drawn national attention due to their sheer numbers (77 million) and because of their "coming of age": the first of the boomers turned 60 this year.

What's the best way for your program to make the most of this untapped pool of potential volunteers, and how do you reach them?

1. Understand your target audience

In the case of the baby boomers, this is both difficult and easy: difficult because the baby boomers are such a diverse group, by almost every measure—in economic status, cultural identity, and educational level; easy because there are several new studies and resources that address the psychology of the boomers. According to Margaret Mark, president of the social marketing firm, Strategic Insights, baby boomers "buy experience" (think Starbucks!). Baby boomers want adventure, pleasure, discovery, and a purposeful relationship; they want to feel connected to people through a common goal. In this respect, they might not be so different from those of other generations who have come forward to serve.

2. Determine the customer’s benefit: What’s in it for the prospective volunteer?

From the initial research it seems that only a small minority of baby boomers believe they are going to retire in the conventional sense. Others are still working and feel a high level of anxiety about what they are going to do. The boomers believe that everything they’ve done so far as a generation has challenged the status quo, and they are determined to retire differently, but many still don’t know what form that will take. So you can appeal to their generational pride to get them to come forward, and then offer them productive and creative opportunities to serve in their communities. The baby boomers may not yet have an all-consuming passion for service, but see it as part of the tapestry of their lives, which has included family, career, hobbies and increasingly, civic engagement.

3. Communicating right on the money

You can help get boomers excited about the idea of volunteering by sharing some of the benefits of service in your recruitment message. For the baby boomers, this may be a vision of their middle or later years as expanding or opening up, not restricting or shutting down: a sense of new possibilities, camaraderie, and shared goals.

Baby boomers want to know exactly what role they will be playing within an organization or what service they will be providing. Be very specific. Don’t glorify the kind of work they will be expected to do; don’t pretend it's something it isn’t. Be straightforward about what it is, and they might want to check it out.

Margaret Mark explains: "In the final analysis, you can multiply the value of your recruitment message if every time people hear or see it they can connect it to a previous message they have seen or heard or because what it talks about is a little controversial or because it is so clever and engaging that it surprises people. Those things have the potential to take very low budget campaigns and create a big and lasting impact."


Q: How do you encourage baby boomers, who are still active in the workforce due to necessity or desire, to volunteer?

A: It has been documented that baby boomers actually volunteer more in mid-life, usually when it comes to activities associated with parenting. So this is a segment of the baby boomers—the younger boomers—that you can appeal to. With the baby boomers’ expressed interest in education, do market activities that will either expand their current field of knowledge or entice them with opportunities to learn about something entirely new, perhaps in anticipation of the next stage or a new career. And, obviously, people who are working do not have the luxury of unlimited time, so you should offer flexible hours or episodic volunteer commitments that align with their interests: education, health and fitness, nature, and travel.

Q: Once recruited, what are some tips for managing baby boomer volunteers?

A: With an influx of baby boomer volunteers, be ready for new management experiences and challenges. Because many of the baby boomers have been or are currently in the workforce, they will be expecting to be treated with a high degree of professionalism. Many will have held management positions themselves and may bring skills to their volunteer work that should be recognized and utilized. As a volunteer manager, keep in mind their high level of education and their expertise. Additionally, provide updated and appropriate incentives. Annual recognition banquets and award items such as pins and certificates may not be an effective reward for these volunteers. Instead, they may prefer frequent flier miles, free or discounted tuition, tickets to cultural events, or gift certificates to chic restaurants.

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