Volunteering is good for your health

During a recent Charities Aid Foundation inquiry in front of the United Kingdom parliament, Janet Thorne, chief executive of Reach, a resource for charitable foundations to secure volunteers, explained how nonprofits are failing to entice older citizens to volunteer.

There are a number of factors contributing to the recent decline in senior volunteers, but Thorne suggests perhaps the most significant is the lack of creativity regarding opportunities. For the elderly, nonprofits don't offer a wide variety of roles and, as a result, a certain amount of disinterest has developed.

"Older people are a valuable resource – they are less likely to stop volunteering and people over 60 are twice as likely to go on to volunteer," she said. "The problem is with demand – charities are not that good at being creative with things for them to do."

Thorne later added that nonprofits have grown callous towards working with the special needs of the elderly, saying charities found them to be "not worth the bother."

Older volunteers are healthier
For nonprofits hoping to increase the level of senior involvement in their fundraising efforts, new research recently published by Purdue University shows adults 70 or older are typically in better physical health than others their age and younger if they regularly volunteer.

"We looked at older adults engaging in a variety of productive activities, but there is something really distinctive about volunteering that positively affects a person's physical health, " said Seoyoun Kim, a doctoral student in sociology and gerontology who led the study.

The study examined people ages 70-85 and discovered their biological profiles appeared younger than people in their 50s and 60s.

While increasing the level of creativity that goes into designing volunteer roles for older people would certainly be an effective way to spur senior involvement, something as simple as educating the community on the physical benefits of volunteering may also help. 

The study found volunteering was unique in the sense that not only does it assist in strengthening seniors physically, but it also gives them a chance to engage in more meaningful roles, like raising money for charity.

To Kenneth Ferraro, a Purdue distinguished professor of sociology, volunteering is a lens with which people view their lives differently. Ferraro suggests charitable acts help people realize what's important and, as a result, make people feel like they're a making a difference. 

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