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Volunteering: On the decline in retirement villages?

Is the willingness of retirement village residents to volunteer on the decline?

Recent conversations with members of the Residents Associations from across the country have raised this very concern.

It is also a concern that has been raised by Village Managers across the country this year. The DCM Institute has been contacted regularly throughout the year to help Village Managers navigate dissolving a resident’s committee, and what to do when one does not exist.

While this trend is being observed in retirement villages, is there any information to confirm this is more widespread?

In 2016, more than 20 per cent of Australians took time out of their busy lives to volunteer. By 2021, this number fell to 15 per cent – a record low.

Table: Census-based estimate of volunteering rates, 2006 to 2021 (%)

Speaking at the recent Retirement Living Summit, Simon Kuestenmacher, ‘The Stats Guy’, commented that compared to their peers in the wider community, retirement village residents are more likely to volunteer.

Simon presented statistics from the 2021 ABS Census that confirmed 20% of 75–84-year-olds living retirement village residents are likely to volunteer, compared to just 17% in the wider community.

While this is encouraging as it speaks to our residents being more likely to volunteer than the wider population of people over 75 years of age, the 2021 Census also shows an overall decline in willingness of the 75-84 age group which is down to 16.58% from 19% in 2016.

Research shows that older adults who engage in volunteering are associated with more positive self-perceptions of ageing, which in turn predicted fewer symptoms of depression (Huo et al 2021).

What then can we do about this decline in our retirement villages?

One of the suggestions when this question was posed to Judy Mayfield from the ARQRV was, “to give them a project.”

Judy noted how residents are more likely to volunteer their time on a project that has a specific ‘end’ or ‘goal’ in instances when they are less likely to give their time to being members of Committees.

Sometimes the simplest insights are the most invaluable. If your retirement village is struggling to find volunteers, consider this approach. Find them a project.

Not just any project for the sake of ticking a box. Rather, a project which speaks to residents’ interests and can give or elevate their own persona purpose.

The concept of purpose is not foreign to DCM Institute participants. We explored it in detail at last year’s Village Summit with Phil Preston.

The numbers might suggest that the number of residents volunteering is declining. As Village Managers, we do have the ability to motivate and inspire. We just need to take the time to understand our residents. Understand their interests and their purpose. And find something that speaks to this which will benefit a wider group of people.

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