By 2033 the number of people in the UK aged over 100 is projected to increase five-fold and will almost fill Wembley Stadium

An ageing society in practice

By Commission on the Voluntary Sector & Ageing 8 April 2014

James Cochrane CBE is a commissioner of the Commission on the Voluntary Sector & Ageing and vice chairman of Raleigh International. He was previously main board director of GlaxoWellcome plc, chairman of South West London Strategic Health Authority, and chairman of the British Red Cross.

Have charities really thought through the effects of an ageing population? Every decade the average life expectancy increases by two years, and half of all babies born in 2014 are expected to live to 100.

So what questions should your board and management be answering today? Our new discussion paper—Age of Opportunity—makes a number of suggestions, broken down into the following key areas:

The sector as a whole

The relationship between the state and the voluntary sector has changed fundamentally, and we are likely to see further dramatic shifts. Statutory grants have fallen and government contracts continue to rise.

  • How can the sector best take advantage of new relationships?
  • How can we encourage collaboration both within and outside the voluntary sector?

Health and well-being

We are currently seeing declining mortality rates with longer life expectancy and improvements in health brought about by medical advances. Care costs will increase as the population ages.

  • How can your organisation ensure older people are included and supported?
  • How can the sector make this country a great one to grow old in?
  • Can your charity encourage and support risk taking and innovation in the supply of services to older beneficiaries?

Technology and data

Technology and data will continue to develop and influence the way we live, and the next generation of older people will be the most digitally savvy to date.

  • How can your organisation communicate effectively across different digital channels?
  • Can the sector compete or partner with others (private and public) for cost, professionalism and outcomes?

Contributions of time

The value that older volunteers bring to the sector is critical both in supporting and developing services and in governance as trustees. By 2020 volunteering by over 65s will reach a value of more than £15bn a year.

  • How can your charity make volunteering more attractive for older people?
  • Do you have the right skill mix and age distribution of trustees to reflect your current and future activities?

Staffing the sector

The concept of both work and retirement is changing; 40% of voluntary sector staff work part-time and 68% are women.

  • How can you best support, train and develop older workers?
  • Do you have the flexibility to support and motivate part-time workers?
  • How should you respond to the increasing pension age?

Funding the sector

Older people tend to be more generous to charities (more than 50% of all donations come from the over 60s), so an ageing population may provide greater individual funding to the sector.

  • What should you be doing to attract older donors?
  • Only one in six wills include a legacy to charity. What can you do to increase your legacy income?
  • The value of individuals’ assets has risen sharply over the last 20 years as house prices have risen. What can you do to increase the income to your charity from this increase in wealth?
  • How can your organisation take advantage of new forms of giving and secure ongoing support?
  • Can you show the impact of your services and activities, and value for money?

The questions may be easy but providing convincing answers is a great deal more difficult. How good are your responses? Please do get in touch if you would like someone from the Commission to come and talk to your group or lead a discussion.