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Research indicates volunteering enriches life

Volunteers the best way to attract prospective retirees

One of the best ways to attract retirees to relocate in Mississippi is developing volunteers to help in the recruitment efforts, said Ann Homer Cook, Ph.D., owner and president of A. Homer Cook & Associates in Ridgeland.

While retirees are attracted by reasonably priced housing and amenities like Mississippi`s waiver of state income tax on retirement fund income, retirees also want a place where they belong and have a role in continuing to be productive members of society.

“One of the things retirees are looking for is being in a valued group in society,” said Cook, a speaker at the Fourth Annual Southeastern Retirement Symposium April 28-29 in Vicksburg. “Retirees may have just left a business or job they held a long time. So they are looking for a new group to become involved with.”

Studies have shown that work satisfaction and feelings of usefulness are very important to successful aging. And volunteerism is one way to continue feeling useful and involved in the community.

“Volunteering enriches life,” Cook said. “And because life is enriched, the aging process is more successful. The common belief is that retirement is marked by drastic changes in lifestyle and productivity. But studies have found that the elderly who maintain activity levels similar to their middle age years have what we call “successful aging.” And the number one way to do that is to render some socially useful service. So if our communities want to attract retirees who have a desire to be a part of successful aging, then volunteerism is going to be a must.”

America`s 93 million volunteers donate 20 billion hours per year. Cook said there are three basic reasons why people volunteer:

1. They want to do something useful to help others.

2. They have an interest in the particular work or activity.

3. They enjoy the work.

“Volunteering works best when it is an exchange, and not just charity,” Cook said. “In other words, the person who is volunteering is receiving something, a type of fulfillment, and those they are helping are receiving something also.”

There are differences between managing volunteers and employees. Volunteers require more flexibility because their motivation isn`t a paycheck, but empowerment and personal affirmation. Cook said managers have to be very careful developing listening skills so they hear what volunteers are saying.

“Ask what they want to do,” Cook suggests. “The big key is matching the retiree volunteer with something that volunteer wants to do. Matching the person to the job is more important in volunteerism than it is in the job market.

“There`s another part of the matching that is very, very important. You`re matching not only the person to the job, but matching that person to other people they enjoy working with. The reason is it is a social outlet also. If you put two volunteers together who don`t match or complement each other, you are going to lose one or both of them.”

Cook, whose firm does counseling and consulting work, said it is also a good idea to develop realistic job descriptions for volunteers. That gives volunteers a clearer idea of what is expected and therefore helps eliminate problems down the road.

“It is important also to have a high standard in working with volunteers,” Cook said. “One way to do that is a job description that communicates what the expectations are. And, then of course, one of the most important things is keeping the lines of communications open. That is a necessary component of any kind of organization that is successful.”


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