Make the most of IT skills among retired volunteers

Retired volunteers have more time than others and are much more IT literate than a few years previously, says Helen Simmons of the Diocese of London

Helen Simmons
Helen Simmons

Something is happening so gradually that we may not even be registering it.

Ten years ago, it was not uncommon for those of my volunteers who had just retired from full-time work to request tasks that did not involve the use of a computer, which was at times a challenge, but generally we could work around it.

In the past couple of years, I have had only one such request and have found most retired people happy to use the basic Windows software to do basic tasks. Just recently, I was blown away by a retired volunteer with Excel and database skills at a level way above anyone in our organisation.

In just three months, he took a simple data summary request and delivered an all-singing, all-dancing tool that we will be able to use for years to come.

Now, my nickname is Hypothesis Helen, not Evidence-Based Findings Helen. You might like to conclude that this is simply the luck of the draw, but I say it is logical that, over the next 10 years, we will see a step change in the IT skills of the newly retired generation.

If you were retiring 10 years ago, you might not have had the motivation to hone such new skills as you cruised to retirement. If you are retiring now, you have had maybe 20 years since IT became really modern in the office workspace and you will have been less inclined to avoid it - you might even have had time to become a bit of a guru.

What are the implications for charities? It means there is more opportunity to match up projects that need IT skills with retired volunteers. Whether it's a revamp of the website, a report-writing exercise or database housekeeping, there will be more and more volunteers in the 'retired' category who will be able to help.

Why is this significant? Because they often have more time to give than some other categories of volunteer, and often stay with the organisation for longer. The tasks in question are traditionally those that charities don't have permanent staff in-house to carry out. Instead, they tend to turn to consultants and often pay through the nose for the privilege.

It's an exciting time for volunteering, and charities cannot afford to miss opportunities like this, given the challenge they face to be more effective and efficient.

If you have tended to avoid using retired volunteers, then shame on you; but it's not too late to change your ways. Such people bring experience and character, and more and more often they also bring great IT skills. Well, that's my hypothesis.

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