New retirees are still learning how they want to live their new life, and it can take a few months to find a new routine with new activities. However many charities and non-profit groups are experts at recruiting these inexperienced retirees. Before they find you, you'll be a better recruit if you've already made it part of your plan.
Volunteering reconnects with family and community through a fulfilling mission. You're "giving back" and "paying it forward". Before giving your time, though, take the time to explore your options. You don't have to set an example right away and you may need months to sort out your own priorities. Don't replace your military missions with a volunteer mission. There's no need to replicate your work environment or overload your schedule.
If you've volunteered with an organization before retirement then this is a chance to become even more involved. If you've never worked with a particular group before (or never even had the time) then do your research. Think about why you want to volunteer there and how you'd like to spend your time. Check the group's website and annual reports to see how they spend your donations. Talk to other volunteers, especially former volunteers who can speak freely. Visit a charity's offices for an eye-opening glimpse, or see if they'll let you work an hour or two a week before you make a bigger commitment. You don't want to leap in and then burn out if it's less rewarding than you expected.
Even when the charity is worth your time, you may feel differently about the beneficiaries. Several retirees have encountered this surprise while volunteering for a global group. The charity does a great job for their beneficiaries and their volunteers. However the volunteers often saw an attitude of entitlement from the beneficiaries that made for a very uncomfortable working relationship.
Consider your exit strategy before you make the commitment. Do you see yourself being there six months from now? Ten years? What could cause you to burn out? You don't have to discuss your thoughts with the charity, but if the situation changes then you can make a graceful exit on good terms. Better yet, each volunteer stint helps you learn about other opportunities that could lead to a long-term relationship with a wonderful group.
You could also serve your favorite causes by donating money or possessions. Their time requirements might not be a good fit, but you could find another way to contribute. If you can build furniture or sew quilts for a homeless shelter then they'll be just as appreciative as if you were working there.
Do you want to volunteer in your neighborhood? It's a great way to reconnect with the community, but don't be exploited. Watch out for "Hey, you're retired, you have free time, and you could help us with this!" It's nice to be invited, but your time might be taken for granted. Neighbors mean well but they may not appreciate that you're already busy. They may even hope that retirees have 40 extra hours a week to help their neighbors.
Set limits and be firm. Help as much as you want but be clear about spending time with family or doing your own chores. Even after you retire, you still have a right to enjoy your personal time!
About Doug Nordman
I retired from the Navy over a decade ago after 20 years in the submarine force. My spouse spent 17 years in the Navy's Meteorology/Oceanography community and eight more in the Navy Reserve. Both of us are enjoying our beach-bum retirement in Hawaii, where we were first stationed in 1989. Today our daughter is a college senior on an NROTC scholarship.
I wrote "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" to share the stories of over 50 other servicemembers and veterans. All royalties are donated to military charities (over $8000 so far), and we're collecting more material for the second edition. Stop by The-Military-Guide.com to share your story and learn more about gaining financial independence!
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