... baby boomers boast a large number of well-educated, highly skilled executives, entrepreneurs, and leaders, many of whom will feel that their talents are not being put to use in low-level volunteer positions. Research indicates that these boomers should be placed at programming levels to utilize their abilities fully and to keep them engaged.
That got me thinking about our volunteer positions and whether they are going to satisfy the soon-to-be retired wave of baby boomers. While we certainly have some "programming level" volunteer positions such as the Friends of the Library Board, management of the Library Shop, or oversight of the book sales, many of our volunteer positions are important to the smooth operation of the library, but fairly low level. Things like tidying the library, sorting books, and putting out the new periodicals.
Tonight Branch Operations Manager Jennifer Addington and I were at a community event and met a very nice couple who are both soon to retire from executive positions at a very large aerospace corporation. They are looking for volunteer opportunities, and would love to get involved with the library. The more I talked to them about their talents and interests the more it became obvious that:
- They are way over-qualified for, and not really interested in, many of the kinds of volunteer positions we have.
- They would be able to contribute a great deal to the library district – but in areas that are currently viewed by staff as "their" domain. For example, the wife is responsible for the corporation's information systems and has successfully managed very large scale and complex software projects. She could be a real asset in our current efforts to replace our systems if we could find a way to make use of those talents in conjunction with those of our staff.
- Our volunteer program, and to a large extent our culture, is not ready to provide the kinds of opportunities that these highly qualified volunteers are seeking.
I see this a big challenge and a big opportunity for us. The challenge is to develop volunteer programs in which volunteer talents are fully utilized, including using them in areas that currently are the exclusive domain of staff. This doesn't mean replacing staff with volunteers, but it does mean working with staff to integrate volunteers into their work as equals (or maybe even as mentors or coaches where the volunteers are more knowledgeable and experienced than staff) and continuing to change the culture from one in which volunteers are seen as a bit of a hassle to one that values them as a means of really stretching our capabilities.
The opportunity is that I don't think many other organizations have gotten it right yet either…so if we can change quickly enough we will have our pick of the talented people who will soon be available.