Cessation of volunteering due to age-related issues

Bruce Davenport, Lecturer and Senior Research Associate in the School of Arts & Cultures at Newcastle University, talked with our Volunteer Organisers Network about supporting volunteers who are finding it increasingly difficult to volunteer and, in some cases, creating an effective exit strategy with them.
Bruce gave the following tips for supporting volunteers with age-related issues:
Understand that volunteering may be a central part of people’s lives

Older volunteers may have been with an organisation for many years, and understandably may have an attachment to their role. Volunteering may also form an important part of their identity.

They likely volunteer because they experience benefits of doing so, such as feeling good about giving back, making friends and being part of a community. In some cases, volunteering may provide needed space and independence from partners, with whom people spend more time post-retirement.

Because of older volunteers’ often long-standing commitment to the organisation, potential implications for their identity and loss of the benefits of volunteering, it can be upsetting for older people if their health prevents them from continuing their role.

Make reasonable adjustments

If a volunteer is experiencing health issues that may make it more difficult for them to continue in their current role, consider how that role could be adapted to suit them or if they may be interested in a different type of role.

For example, if the volunteer is greeting visitors or operating as a room steward, both of which can require a lot of standing and moving around, consider:

  • Offering them shorter shifts.
  • Changing their shift times so they can come in when there are more volunteers on duty to support them.
  • Giving them chairs to sit on throughout their shift.

Oftentimes, having a conversation with a volunteer about adjustments that can be made to their role or whether they’d like to take on a new role can open up a wider conversation about their health, their ability to volunteer and a potential exit plan.

Define the limits of support

Although volunteer organisers often want to do everything they can to support volunteers and enable them to continue their role, there are limits to what can be done.

There will come a time when volunteer organisers do not have the capacity or resources to enable a volunteer to continue in their role. To prepare for the difficulties of this moment, consider starting a conversation within your organisation about clearly defining the limits of support for volunteers.

Have an open conversation with volunteers about their health and safety

Research has shown that if people have a sense of agency in the decision-making process around leaving their volunteer role, they are more likely to experience closure and have a smoother transition into post-volunteering life.

So although leaving volunteering is often accompanied with feelings of loss, involving volunteers in open conversations about their health and safety and their exit plan can help ameliorate the negative impacts of stopping volunteering.

Update policies and procedures to include steps for supporting volunteers with age-related conditions

Supporting volunteers with age-related conditions is a complex issue that is often overlooked and unaddressed in organisational procedures and policies.

Review your current volunteer policies and include information on how to approach the cessation of volunteering, including the limits of support that can be offered to volunteers. Remember to check if there are any relevant procedures or policies in place for staff members that could be adapted for volunteers.

Learn from other heritage volunteer organisers

We’re all in this together! If you liked this blog and watched the event recording and are keen for more information, you can sign up to Make Your Mark to access a Scotland-wide heritage volunteer organisers network. Joining Make Your Mark will also subscribe you to a monthly e-newsletter with top tips for heritage volunteer organisers. Signing up is free and easy – just fill out this short form.

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