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Retiring With Dignity: Volunteer Emeritus Programs

With the Baby Boomers heading toward retirement, the number of volunteer programs dealing with issues of aging volunteers is increasing. One of the challenges will be to “retire” once magnificent performers who are now demonstrating diminished physical and/or mental capabilities. Tempted as we may be to “dump them and run” our challenge will be to transition them with dignity and grace while recognizing the benefits of their contributions. One part of the solution may be in the creation of a Volunteer Emeritus program.

Emeritus, or the feminine form Emerita, is placed after a title to designate someone who has retired and is being honored for the work they achieved. You have most likely encountered the title Professor Emeritus; a retired professor who is still recognized and honored by their University or College. In fact, some Professors Emeriti still lecture, but their role and responsibilities have been greatly reduced. Volunteer Emeriti then, are those volunteers that we wish to honor and recognize for the great work they have achieved on behalf of our missions, but now are in need of reduced responsibilities.

Whether you call it an Honorary Society, Associates Council or Volunteer Emeritus, a sound program will create an environment suggesting that there will be a time when a volunteer will no longer be able to perform their functions satisfactorily. While at the same time say that there is still a place of honor for them when the time to retire comes.

Here, then, are some recommended guidelines as suggested by many members of the CyberVPM, Volunteer-Issues, Denver-DOVIA, and American Association of Museums listservs. Thank you all for your contributions.

  1. Research the issues around aging and understand how the “loss of control” may affect your volunteers.
  2. Have well defined guidelines on the expectations of performance for existing volunteer opportunities. Good position descriptions help define the standards of performance and will indicate to the volunteer when they are failing to achieve these expectations.
  3. Set policies and guidelines on when and how they achieve Volunteer Emeritus status. Including things like years of service, satisfactory performance, frequency of service, types and number of contributions may help. Some organizations require service on certain types of committees while others require the volunteer to request the change in status.
  4. Provide meaningful benefits.– Many Volunteer Emeriti will be on limited incomes, so discounts or freebies to items and organizational access may be welcomed.

    — Allow them to attend training secessions.

    — Invite them to recognition and social events.

    — Send them newsletters and other “insider” information.

  5. Be sure to integrate the Emeritus program into the overall operation of the volunteer program. Emeritus status should be a natural conclusion to volunteer service , not just a means for removing poor performers.
  6. Provide responsibility without the heavy workloads. Invite them to serve as honorary members of some committees or create special committees to take advantage of their years of wisdom serving your organization.
  7. Ensure that there is a mutual agreement between staff and the volunteer as to the need for a change in status. Sometimes it may be appropriate to speak with other family members but always respect and honor their dignity.
  8. A change to Emeritus status may be suggested to inactive volunteers as appropriate.
  9. Recognize them appropriately for the years of service and quality of performance.– Provide certificates recognizing their change of status and past accomplishments.

    — Publish their names, accomplishments and/or years of service in annual recognition invitations and annual reports.

    — Perform a special “change of status” ritual or event in their honor.

    — Create a “Emeritus Wall of Fame.”

  10. Create a special award named after an Emeritus Volunteer who exemplified the type of service and dedication you desire.
Michael Stills

About the Contributor: Michael Stills

Michael enjoyed over 20 years working as professional in Volunteer and Nonprofit management.  Today he can be found using his skills and expertise helping others enjoy the rewards of Family History research.

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