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4 min read

Is volunteer management software just too hard for elderly people to learn?

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The early days of volunteer management software

In the early days of online volunteer management software, there was a common belief that older volunteers couldn't use computers or software. Managers of volunteers would say that their older volunteers didn't have access to a computer or phone, or that they wouldn't be interested in using such technology. I’d like to challenge that notion.

Older adults can and do use computers and software, and they often enjoy the challenge of learning new things. Additionally, technology has come a long way in the last few years, and today's older generations are more comfortable using computers and smartphones than ever before. In this blog post, we will dispel the myth that older volunteers can't use technology and give you some tips to overcome some of the challenges that come with any system change.

Why some older adults don't go online

In the early 2000s Microsoft asked older adults, who didn't go online, why that was the case. The researchers discovered it was not because they didn't think they could: it was because they saw no reason to bother with it. Compared to two decades ago, there are significantly more reasons today for older people to use the Internet including keeping in touch with family, banking, shopping, researching, travel and even dating. According to Damona Hoffman, a Los Angeles-based certified dating coach, for the decade before COVID, 60+ is one of the fastest-growing groups of online daters. And COVID has even accelerated that growth over the past two years, as it has with all the ways we use the internet. And it appears that this affect is not going to disappear anytime soon. According to Senior Living, roughly 75% of older adults with an internet connection report that they use it daily, and 70% of them using the Internet say their usage will stay the same or go up once they are no longer concerned about COVID.

It's also worth considering who these older adults are relative to the technology we're taking about. An 80-year-old today has lived over half their post-secondary school life since the first internet browser was introduced in 1992. Although new ways to use the Internet keep appearing, it's not exactly a new concept to today's seniors any longer.

Current internet usage statistics

In 2021, according to Statista, 75 percent of adults over 65 years of age said they used the internet and among the individuals 50 to 64 years, it was 96 percent. In reality, the number is likely higher as there are cases, such as kiosks, where volunteers check in when they volunteer or where the interfaces are simple touch pads that look and feel nothing like connecting to the internet. As such, one might easily be using the internet and not even realize it.

share of adults who use the internet in USA 2021 ps

This leads us to another important point. It's not an all or nothing scenario. You can have access to a full suite of volunteer management software tools and your volunteers can have access to their portal in the system, even if some volunteers don’t use all of what’s there for them, or even any of it. The time you’ll save using modern, dedicated volunteer management software will make it easier for you to engage all volunteers, including those who require more of your personal time.

Marjorie Early Days of Volunteering

When Marjorie, (in costume for her volunteer role at a period museum) was asked to start signing in and out of her shift using an iPad, her only question was, “What’s an iPad?” Within a couple of minutes of instruction, Marjorie was fully capable of signing in and out, which automatically logged her hours and began saving valuable staff time.

Possible hurdles to overcome

As with the introduction of any new system though, there may be some hurdles to overcome. Here are a couple we've heard about and some possible ways to get past them.

Fear that they'll make and a mistake with it (or worse, break it).

  • Ease their mind that any data they add can be reversed if they make a mistake (and that they really can't break anything)
  • Encourage them to ask questions
  • Create a buddy system with volunteers interested in helping other volunteers become familiar with the new system (This idea was given to us by our very first member, the Oklahoma Civic Center, back in 2001!)
  • If you're implementing something like a time clock for the first time, create a volunteer position geared toward helping people sign in and out to ease through the transition period

They don't understand why the change is necessary.

  • Give them an idea of how much money it will save the organization (Try our ROI Calculator)
  • If you have great plans of new projects that you'll be able to undertake with the time you'll save, share those plans
  • Show them how volunteer software can benefit their volunteer experience. Among others, these include checking their schedule without calling or emailing you, access to an ongoing record of their hours, accessing remote training at their own convenience, seeing what shifts still need volunteers, and adding themselves to the schedule (if they have been preapproved to do so).

When the Civic Centre Music Hall (where a high proportion of older adults volunteered) began using our volunteer management software, 75% of the volunteers logged in during the first year. The following year it was 90% and in the third year it was 100%. And that was twenty years ago!

Conclusion

If you are hesitant to use dedicated volunteer management software because you think your volunteers are not ready for it, rest assured, they are. And after you get up and running with a new system you and your volunteers will look back and wish it had happened a lot sooner.


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