Is Your Old Nonprofit Ready for New Seniors?

Every morning in America, 10,000 people wake up 65…and that won’t stop for the next 22 years.

I urge you to really let that sink in.

Some 70 million Baby Boomers are coming, and nothing short of an asteroid striking the earth will change this demographic reality. And not unlike an asteroid, this historically significant, and legendarily self-focused generation is hurling towards the nonprofit sector packing a seismic wallop that could make dinosaurs out of social service organizations that are unprepared.

For countless examples of what is coming, you need look no further than the federal General Accounting Office’s 2011 report to the U.S. Senate’s Special Committee on Aging (OLDER AMERICANS ACT – More Should Be Done to Measure the Extent of Unmet Need for Services http://gao.gov/assets/320/316099.pdf), made in anticipation of this year’s reauthorization of the Older Americans Act.

This report is rich in detail, and offers striking examples that should set off alarms at any organization in the human services field. For example, only 8.3% of low income, eligible seniors received home delivery or congregate meal support. Only 13% took advantage of SNAP / Food Stamp benefits.

To put this into context, you must understand three things: 1) Members of the current “older generation” are the prideful generation, and tend to avoid asking for charitable assistance, even when it is a right; 2) In their earning years, they were more financially responsible and prone to saving money and avoiding credit card debt; and, 3) The charitable sector is struggling to meet current demand. There is a waiting list in many cities for Meals on Wheels, and Food Banks and pantries are facing growing pressure to meet escalating demand with rapidly diminishing resources.

If we are struggling to serve the current “hesitant to ask/got a little set aside” older generation, what happens when a new generation of elders — a generation with less money set aside for their later years, who are less hesitant to ask for support, and more demanding in expectations – begins to show up?

Get where I’m coming from?

The ripples created by of our aging society go well beyond the first person. Take falls for example. One in three seniors takes a life altering fall every year, and falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries for people ages 65 and older. As the number of seniors doubles in the next decade, so too, will these life altering accidents. Imagine the pressure on the American workforce when their 40-60 year old children get the call that Mom or Pop can’t care for themselves anymore. How will that impact working families who now must take time off, or dip into meager savings to help pay for the fulltime care required? What about the businesses that employ them? Will they hold jobs for employees, or sympathize with an employee who needs time off to care for an aging parent? How will that impact local economies, in towns with shrinking tax bases, when payroll taxes shrink while social service demands rise?

Every social service nonprofit will be affected by this demographic phenomenon, yet few are preparing internally or helping their communities prepare for the impending social and economic impact.

This is part of why I am now in Los Angeles, preparing to launch the L.A. Kitchen (www.lakitchen.org). I see the future and along with partners like AARP, we are working diligently to create dynamic new programs that uplift, engage, strengthen and empower. More to the point, we want to promote a new role for elders, so that we come to value their contributions and help them remain productive and healthy as long as possible.

We in the nonprofit sector must be prepared for a new era of expectations, but we cannot wait for the future to come to us…we have to march out to meet it, starting today.