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10 Steps to Move You from Work to Successful Encore Volunteering

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This is a guest article by regular contributor Karl Burgher.

In a previous post, we spoke about “5 Key Action Steps to Help You Enjoy Volunteering.” This week’s blog builds on that theme for those encore volunteers who have left the working world with years of experience and wisdom to bring to the volunteer organization.

Let’s define the encore volunteer as the individual doing something in service after having done something else for much of their lives. Much has been written about the “encore” time of life, given that so many folks are living so much longer. Encores want, and very much need, to find something to occupy time purposefully for as much as a  decade or two after having finished their work-for-pay life. We discuss this at length in Chapter 8 of our free eBook Volunteering.

Take note—you encore volunteers have a special place in the “volunteer paradigm” because of those decades of experience and wisdom you bring to your new organizations. You have the benefit of hindsight. You have the advantage of having seen how it all works (or does not), often times repeatedly. You have lived through much and can now make better choices based on what worked, what didn’t, what you liked and disliked about staff and management, and on your ability to know the difference between health and dysfunction.


We suggest you follow these ten steps to seamlessly transition yourselves toward a successful encore volunteering experience:

1. Disengage from the old work, but take the lessons you learned with you. Whereas you may have seen your previous job as a chore, volunteering can and should be different. If you adopt a positive attitude, it can be a rewarding experience that brings much personal satisfaction. Always keep in mind that you have years of experience to share with others.

2. Reengage with family and friends. During your career, if you were working forty or more hours a week, it was likely challenging to spend as much time as you would have liked to with the people you care about. Take the time now to strengthen these relationships before jumping too hard into something new.

3. Allow yourself to be bored. It lets you clear your mind and can be healing.

4. Educate yourself about the “encore” time of your life. There are many useful articles and books about this topic to help you understand this change in your life.

5. Assess your interests and skills. You may have hobbies you would like to spend time on or skills you would like to learn or develop. Now you have the time to do so. In addition, you will discover that you can actually take the time to share your own talents and expertise with others.

6. Determine what your drivers are for volunteering. This includes thinking about what specific service needs will keep you coming back to your organization. Your motivations should match those of the organizations you want to serve.

7. Learn about organizations that align with your values. Talk to people who volunteer already in a particular venue, do some research online. You will be a happier, more productive volunteer if your service projects are in harmony with what you think is important.

8. Make a plan of what you would like to do. Write it down. Talk it over with friends. This step can help you clarify your own objectives and help you reach your goals.

9. Begin to volunteer. You can start out with a minimal time/effort commitment. Perhaps ease your way in. If you like it, you can always contribute more. But remember to not over commit yourself or you may end up burned out and frustrated, just as you may have been prior.

10. Be a leader. Even if you are not “the” leader in your organization, you can still be “a” leader. Lead by example, and make sure to enjoy yourself and celebrate others!


Transitioning from the work-for-pay world to the world of volunteering does not have to be traumatic if you exercise some transitioning steps and caution, along with doing some homework and planning. You have pretty close to total control over this next journey. Relish, cherish, and enjoy this wonderful new freedom.

Your new “assignment” as a volunteer will not replace your career and you need to be aware of the differences between the two. You also need to use your experience and knowledge and know that it can greatly benefit the organizations and people you are going to serve. Move slowly with this advantage—but do make sure you reach out and teach with patience and courage, do the needful deed, act in kindness, and be the leader that you can be. These days are joyous, spiritual, and healing. You will also give much to yourself as you give to others. Now get out and enjoy.


About the author: Karl E. Burgher, Ph.D., P.E. is former chief strategy officer and now professor of the built environment at Indiana State University with almost thirty years of project and volunteer experience. He is also a Principal at Sunshine Valley Communications – Management Consulting | Economic Development. He is a regular contributor to the Bookboon blog. Read his eBook Volunteering on