Months before retiring from 3M, Mark Skeie started looking into volunteer opportunities.
The chance to volunteer at a camp in northern Minnesota had him hoping he'd be outside, working with campers, even clearing trails.
Instead, a camp employee took Mark and his wife Janice Skeie into a big, windowless pole barn and asked them to stuff envelopes and enter information into a database.
The couple walked out.
It wasn't what Skeie thought he'd signed up for.
Volunteer mismatch is a problem many baby boomers run into, according to Skeie, now executive director of the Vital Aging Network.
It's not just a problem for volunteers. Nonprofits often struggle with how to engage older adults. A 2014 "Boomer Engagement Task Force" convened by the Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration found that nonprofits and would-be volunteers have some work to do.
"If organizations want to recruit and keep boomers as volunteers," the report recommended, "they will need to (a) Look at volunteer engagement as an integral part of overall talent management; (b) Offer high-responsibility, skill-based opportunities; (c) Offer flexible schedules; (d) Publicize so people know these options exist; (e) Streamline their intake process to make it fast, friendly, and individualized."
Retired math professor and continuing textbook author Diana Hestwood was one of 15 volunteers of retirement age who participated in the MAVA task force. She'd had a frustrating experience as well.
Hestwood had picked up a volunteer form at a cooking class and was appalled at the amount of personal information requested — including her driver's license and insurance policy numbers, plus the name of her beneficiary. She omitted some information, turned in the form — and never heard back. She wasn't sure what to do next.
Through the task force, Hestwood found a volunteer opportunity through the Minnesota History Center. She's working on an educational kit called Lumberjack Math to engage youngsters with history and math. The project works with her schedule and allows her to use her knowledge and skills to promote math literacy, a cause that's close to her heart.
The History Center has asked her to consider working on a kit about economics, Hestwood said.
Other nonprofits also work with volunteers' with interests and talents. The staff at Lyngblomsten, a St. Paul care facility, realizes that older adults need to be needed, according to volunteer coordinator Shelli Beck.
"We just really try to listen to what our volunteers are saying," Beck said.
Some volunteers work on spreadsheets; others help residents use Skype to communicate with distant relatives. Retired university professors lead trivia contests.
"The response of the residents is good in that they like a variety of things as well," Beck said.
Hestwood encouraged other would-be volunteers to persevere.
"You do have to be resilient. You do have to hang in there. And if you want to use higher-level skills from your career, it might take longer," Hestwood said. "If you can find a spot, it's like grandparenting instead of parenting — all the good stuff without the problems."
Nancy Crotti is a freelance writer in St. Paul.