Safe ways to volunteer

Charitable organizations rely on the efforts of volunteers to meet their missions every day. People of all ages can volunteer, and a great number of volunteers are seniors.

A 2016 survey from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that nearly one-quarter of American volunteers are age 65 and older. That was never more apparent than during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many nonprofit organizations were suddenly forced to confront a volunteer shortage due to the adoption of social distancing guidelines that were designed to keep vulnerable populations, such as seniors, as safe as possible.

One recent study found that two out of three volunteers decreased or stopped contributing time during the pandemic.

The rollout of various COVID-19 vaccines has allowed vaccinated individuals to return to a certain degree of pre-pandemic normalcy. However, the threat posed by strains of the virus like the Delta variant has made some seniors apprehensive about returning to volunteering. Though each individual should consider various factors before returning to volunteering during the pandemic, the following are some options seniors can consider as they aim to safely pitch in once again.

• Look for contactless opportunities. Interactions with the people they help and work alongside is what drives many volunteers to lend a helping hand. That’s especially so for seniors whose children have grown up and moved out. In person interactions may be too risky during the pandemic, but seniors can still volunteer via contactless opportunities. For example, in lieu of delivering meals by hand, seniors who work with organizations such as Meals on Wheels can deliver prepackaged meals outside recipients’ residences.

• Pitch in with fundraising. A report from Giving USA released in 2021 revealed that Americans gave more to charity in 2020 than in 2019. That increase came in spite of an economic downturn that saw millions of people lose their jobs or take pay cuts as companies scrambled to deal with lost revenue related to the pandemic. Though giving might have increased in 2020, many nonprofit organizations, including local community theaters, likely suffered due to cancellations and audience restrictions. As a result, many local nonprofit organizations are in need of financial support.

Seniors who want to pitch in but stay safe can volunteer to help local organizations raise funds. Seniors can participate in fundraising efforts from the comforts of their own homes.

• Offer professional expertise. Many seniors retired after spending decades mastering their crafts, and that experience can be an invaluable resource to local nonprofit organizations. Seniors can offer professional advice and mentor youths remotely via apps like Zoom without putting their physical health at risk.