Everyone in the association community is obsessed with Millennials, including me, but we can’t ignore the Boomers. They’re not going away any time soon and they also represent an opportunity and resource for associations.
An AARP/Oxford Economics paper reminds us why: “The 30 years added to lifespans in the 20th century have resulted in a longer middle age.” The Boomer generation of 106 million older workers and retirees is a “transformative force” that’s expected to account for more than half of U.S. GDP by 2032. “The (resulting) Longevity Economy is not a passing phenomenon—longer life spans will result in a consistently large over-50 population even after the Baby Boomer wave has crested.” Let’s talk about the bottom line just for a moment: older members can be a huge source of revenue, as long as you remain relevant to their lives.
Healthy old age depends on having a sense of purpose, lifelong learning opportunities and social community. Associations can easily provide these benefits to their oldest members. The title of AARP’s paper suggests a new way to approach this generation — The Longevity Economy: Generating Economic Growth and New Opportunities for Business. Instead of seeing Boomers only as representatives of the past and, sometimes, obstacles to the future, imagine instead the opportunities they provide.
Age Wave, a research firm specializing in population aging, surveyed retirees and found that 54 percent of them view retirement as a new chapter in life, rather than a winding down—a significant increase over the 38 percent that held a similar view a decade ago. Your older members will welcome opportunities to learn, socialize and contribute their time, skills and experience.
Provide skills training and entrepreneurship resources.
Retirement is the dream for most Boomers, but not everyone can afford to retire at 65. A Merrill Lynch survey found that 71 percent of pre-retirees would like to include some work in their retirement years. Those who do will need to keep their skills sharp.
Many will reinvent themselves. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation reports that people in their 50s and 60s start businesses at nearly twice the rate of those in their 20s. “This is, in part, out of necessity, since entrepreneurship tends to rise during recessions and lifetime employment among people over 50 is declining—but it is also because they have the capital, the credit, and, often, a wealth of experience that younger workers lack.”
The Merrill Lynch survey also found that just over half of the respondents said they are planning to begin “encore careers” when they retire. Encore careers, typically in public service sectors such as nonprofits, education, environment, health, government and social services, combine continued income, greater personal meaning and social impact.
To stay professionally viable, Boomers must keep developing the skills needed to succeed in the future workplace. The most important skill is the ability to learn new skills. Associations can help their older members figure out what skills they need to develop in order to find, keep and provide jobs, and then expand their educational offerings to include those career and business development topics.
Help older members contribute to their community.
Last year while writing a paper for a continuing care retirement community developer, I read several studies about the essentials for a long, healthy retirement. Good stuff to know, trust me. Seniors who regularly volunteer and socialize are physically and cognitively healthier than those who don’t.
Mentoring is the obvious choice for older volunteers, but think of all the times you’ve lamented not having enough time or staff to do something. Get volunteers to help! Find new ways for older members to contribute to your association community.
The word “community” is key here. As older members stop going to the office each day, they will be eager to find a replacement for the community and social time they once had. And, they will be eager to contribute their skills, experience and time to that community.
Don’t ignore the oldest membership niche.
Older members transitioning out of full-time or traditional employment are a member niche just as in need of special services as younger members transitioning out of college into full-time employment. Like younger members in transition, some will be able to afford association dues and events, and some won’t. Their employers used to pick up the bill, now they’re on their own. Offer them special dues and event rates, scholarships and barter deals — trade volunteer hours for registration discounts.
Unlike their younger colleagues, older members have decades of experience, wisdom and connections to share with others. You can help them enjoy a fulfilling professional life after retirement while they help the association achieve its goals.
Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer who believes association membership is one of the keys to a rewarding, long, healthy life.