Charities 'must find better ways of connecting older people to volunteering'

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Charities and Volunteering hears that older people are often keen to volunteer but struggle to get information on how to do so

Charities need better ways of connecting older people to volunteering opportunities and providing information about volunteering opportunities in retirement, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Charities and Volunteering has heard.

At a meeting of the group yesterday, parliamentarians heard that although older people were often keen to give something back to their communities, many were unsure where they could get information about volunteering opportunities.

Dan Jones, director of innovation and change at The Centre for Ageing Better, told the meeting he wanted to see charities "think much harder about who volunteers are and how they involve them" in their work.

He also urged charities to focus to a greater extent on the skills older volunteers could bring rather than what the charity needed people to do.

Jones said the sector should be more creative, especially digitally, in how it connected people with volunteering opportunities, noting how effective the dating app Tinder was at connecting people.

But he warned that both digital and real-world solutions were needed to connect older people with volunteering opportunities, noting that a sizeable portion of working-age people were not using digital technology and there was a "big drop off" in digital inclusion after people left work.

Katy Owen, head of the Centre for Social Action and Evaluation at the Office for Civil Society, warned that although digital solutions could help increase volunteering among older people, the sector needed to be "a bit cautious about thinking digitisation is the answer", noting that many older people were "not digital at all".

Oonagh Aitken, chief executive of Volunteering Matters, told the meeting that having the digital infrastructure for promoting volunteering opportunities would work only if the opportunities were there in the first place.

She said: "There's nothing worse than putting your postcode into a website and there's actually nothing available."

Jones said that although older people were an asset for charities, he warned against them being a "substitute for the state in things the state is supposed to do", saying there was a "policy graveyard" of initiatives trying to achieve this.

He warned that although up to 70 per cent of people volunteered once a year, there was a section of society that would not, regardless of the opportunities available for them to do so.

"Of the 30 per cent that don't volunteer, I guess there's a good 20 per cent that don't want to," he said. "You're not going to change that – you're not going to change who they are as people, and certainly not change who they are as people at 60."

Owen said that many older people volunteered on one-off bases, but "that doesn't always turn into reality for a variety of reasons".

To address that, she said, the government would be using three funds worth a combined £4m, which were announced last year by the Office for Civil Society and the innovation foundation Nesta. She said she hoped the projects, currently going through the approval process, would help "make the most of that excitement, that energy and that opportunity".

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