Frequently Asked Questions about Older Adult–Led Change Efforts
- What types and sizes of communities benefit most from an older adult–led change strategy?
- Which kinds of community issues are suited to this approach?
- Our organization’s mission doesn’t focus on older adults. Is this approach still relevant for us?
- Is this a volunteer recruitment strategy, or is it something bigger?
- Why focus on engaging older adults?
- What does this cost?
- What resources exist to help us get started?
Every community has the potential to successfully mobilize older adults to create change. The nine examples profiled on this site demonstrate that this strategy works regardless of a community’s size or composition. They include two statewide initiatives (Maine and Oregon), initiatives in the nation’s two largest cities (New York and Los Angeles), plus projects in rural, urban, and suburban communities as well as three Indian reservations (Northeastern Minnesota; Denver, Colorado; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Rochester, New York; and Baltimore, Maryland). The projects cross socioeconomic, language, race, gender, and educational boundaries.
The strategy is flexible and can be leveraged for transformational results on almost any issue relating to community well-being. The nine projects profiled on this site are getting results on a wide range of issues: at-risk youth, homelessness, neighborhood vitality, immigrant well-being, early childhood, health care, high school graduation, smart growth, healthy food. The options are as limitless as our communities are unique.
3. Our organization’s mission doesn’t focus on older adults. Is this approach still relevant for us?
Yes! The projects profiled on this site are moving the needle on diverse issues that are not connected to aging. Nonprofit, government, grantmaking, and other community-based organizations are realizing that older adults are a substantial—and largely under-tapped—resource. Regardless of your mission, chances are there are retirement-age adults in your community who care about that mission and have something to offer.
Older adult–led change efforts frequently lead to increased volunteerism and donated time. The primary benefit, however, comes from the value older adults bring through their unique skills, life experiences, and talents. Older adults often welcome opportunities to “give back,” yet many need continuing income to survive. Others seek continued learning, paid work, or “encore careers” where they are able to bring tangible value. All want to be valued for their expertise, not as “extra hands.”
Virtually every community in the U.S. is seeing rapid growth in its older population. Older adults are diverse in their interests and talents, and bring a wealth of experience raising families, building careers, and navigating life’s challenges. Many have developed skills, judgment, passions, and personal networks over multiple decades. Most have longstanding and deep roots in their community—extended families, social networks, faith communities, professional and political connections, and other relationships they can draw on to make things happen. Older adults also are often comfortable stepping into leadership roles, taking ownership of the work, and seeing it through to completion.
Mobilizing older adults to create community change can achieve big results, but it does take an investment of time, and often financial resources. The costs of this strategy can differ greatly and have many variables. Small, highly targeted efforts can be accomplished with minimal funds. The nine projects profiled on this site, however, were conceived from the outset as major, multi-year demonstrations, and were funded accordingly by The Atlantic Philanthropies. Each project was developed by a community foundation that raised one-to-one matching funds. In many cases, additional local or regional funders and donors joined and provided resources to continue, expand, or replicate the work. Learn more in No Substitute For Experience, which presents key lessons and insights from these nine projects.
7. What resources exist to help us get started?
We have a library of free, downloadable resources that includes stories, videos, how-to guides, templates, and other technical support materials. We also invite you to connect with others who are doing similar work, including funders and community-based partners who participated in the nine projects profiled on this site.