In September, Jewish Federations of Canada – UIA sponsored a national conference entitled Engaging with Aging. We collaborated with local federations and Jewish family and seniors service providers and agencies. Over 120 people from across Canada - and some from the USA - attended the conference in Montreal, which was co-organized with the Cummings Centre.
Interest in this cohort arose directly from the 2011 National Household Survey which indicated a very large and growing bulge in our Jewish population. Not only is the seniors cohort growing, they are aging differently, living longer, working longer and engaging with family and community in a different way than previous generations. There are also some unique areas of specialization that require expertise and development.
In keeping with our responsibility to anticipate and understand the future of the Jewish community, it became clear that we need to better understand 2 different yet interrelated phenomena.
First is the behaviour and attitudes of the Boomer generation - those born from 1946 to 1964. This is a group with significant time, money and talent.
Second are the needs of the elderly as their capacities diminish and more direct care is required. This group includes older boomers as well as those born before WWII.
JFC-UIA commissioned a research study to help us understand the trends and interests of the Boomer generation. Close to 5000 people from the federations and other related lists participated in the online survey. The sample consisted primarily of connected Jews and the data should be understood in this context.
Highlights of the findings suggest that
- Boomers are looking for different paths to community engagement.
- Their connections are fluid and intermittent.
- Their continued involvement in community life is not guaranteed.
- A core group remains institutionally connected but others are at risk.
- Expense is not the main reason people disengage.
- They share universal concerns and meaning.
- Relationships matter to them.
- They are open to trying new things.
- Volunteering is an appealing engagement activity.
The implications of the data are very important for our communities.
Understandably, many communities are very heavily invested in engaging the next generation. This focus on the younger population groups is imperative if we are to flourish in the future. Indeed, if we are to perpetuate thriving Jewish communities. Across the globe, communities are devoting significant resources to educating and engaging the Millennials. We are learning what attracts them, how to speak to them so that our message is received and we are finding ways to include them and their ideas in our organizations.
We are rightly focused and serious about this work.
That being said, we can’t take Boomers for granted. We can’t assume that they will remain connected to us even if we are not proactive. To make incorrect assumptions about the Boomer generation would be to miss an invaluable opportunity to benefit from their experience and energy.
The data tells us very directly that they are looking for the community to reach out and connect with them. I suspect a less engaged sample would amplify these findings.
As such, a rethink of any strategic plan for a community organization should not focus solely on the younger members.
Innovative engagement programming should be designed with the interests of boomers in mind. There is no doubt that the pay off in raising social capital and strengthening our communities will be exponential. Both boomers and the larger community will benefit.
Curiously enough, so will the millennials. One important finding is that millennials and boomers share many of the same characteristics. They are similar in their desires to connect to each other and to their communities. They want to feel welcome yet free to engage and reengage at will. They are looking to strike a balance between the universal and the particular.
If we truly listen and heed lessons learnt from the data, cracking the code for boomers might teach us about subsequent cohorts. We need to seize this opportunity and work on reimagining our organizational structures so that they are inclusive and flexible.
The Boomer generation has the greatest transfer of wealth in history and with it the potential for financial resource development. Failure to connect in a meaningful way with the Boomers will be to miss out on the most important philanthropic opportunity of all time.
Linda Kislowicz, President & CEO
Jewish Federations of Canada - UIA