For many baby boomers, volunteering is about “tapas, not prix fixe.”
“They do things sporadically, taste a little and move on,” said Linda Kislowicz, president and CEO of Jewish Federations of Canada – UIA. “This is a very important insight.”
Kislowicz was presenting findings from a recent survey of Canadian Jewish boomers conducted by B3/The Jewish Boomer Platform at a lunchtime event geared to Jewish agencies and organizations, April 26, presented by the Jewish Federation of Ottawa at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre.
While so many organizations are focused on how to engage millennials, “we’re missing a big part of the conversation if we don’t think about boomers – those born between 1946 and 1964 – and how they are changing,” said Kislowicz. “The data shows there is a huge wealth of time, talent, wealth and capacity in this population and they are interested in doing some kind of volunteerism.”
The email survey was conducted across Canada. Lists of potential participants were supplied by Jewish Federations and other participating organizations in those cities. There were 4,719 responses, including 374 from Ottawa. The fact that the survey was of “connected Jews,” strengthens rather than dilutes the findings, Kislowicz said.
Aging is not just about geriatrics and it’s not just about retirees, said Kislowicz. “People are retiring later and launching second and third careers, their ‘encore careers.’ Cultural anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson calls it ‘Adulthood II.’
“Overwhelmingly, the most common reason to volunteer is to ‘make a difference in people’s lives,’” she said. “Volunteering is an appealing engagement activity. Volunteer experiences that are relationship-based are the kind people get satisfaction from … People are more likely to connect if it’s a limited commitment. We need more one-on-one opportunities and new kinds of ways to harness all that energy.”
Kislowicz said that only 23 per cent of the Ottawa respondents agreed they could get enough Jewish involvement without a synagogue membership.
“This shows they think the synagogue is important. Ottawa respondents are telling us they believe Jewish organizations are quite important to how they feel about Jewish involvement.”
The results of the study are an “opportunity to build and to grow,” she said.
For example, in the survey’s section on former synagogue members, the top three reasons cited for giving up membership are a lack of connection with clergy; a change in financial status; and unhappiness with synagogue administration. “These are things we can change,” she said.
“We learn from this data that our boomer population is looking for episodic connections, Kislowicz said. “Keep in mind that relationships and caring really matter … Each of us in our professional life has to reach out to this population.”
Summaries of the survey are available from Sarah Beutel at the Jewish Federation of Ottawa at