Sponsored by Great-West Financial
After their husbands die, many women feel isolated and directionless. As an advisor, you can help your widowed clients get through tough times by providing compassionate assistance and encouraging life-affirming activities, strengthening your advisor-client relationship in the process. Help your clients build a diversified social portfolio that goes hand in hand with their financial portfolios. This approach may include strategizing about setting aside money for social events, as well as simply talking through various opportunities available for your clients to meet new people in their area.
One especially beneficial activity for widows is volunteering. Women are already more likely than men to volunteer, and volunteers age 65 and over tend to devote more time to volunteering than their younger peers.
Here's how volunteering can improve the lives of clients who have recently lost a spouse, and how you can help them identify ways to give back to their community.
Health and happiness
Many studies have demonstrated a link between volunteering and better physical health, from increased physical activity to better cardiovascular health to lower mortality rates.[2[ This correlation is especially relevant for recently widowed women, who are especially prone to illness. What's more, volunteering has been shown to significantly improve mental health. It relieves stress and provides people with a sense of purpose and accomplishment—especially among individuals who are undergoing major role transformations. For widows, whose identities may have been bound up with those of their husbands, the boost to self-esteem can be particularly significant.
One study found that volunteering is actually correlated with happiness , especially for older volunteers. This is likely due in part to the power of volunteering to expand people's social networks. One of the greatest challenges for many recent widows is re-establishing a social circle, particularly for women who are used to socializing with their spouses. Volunteering creates an opportunity to meet people with shared interests and work toward a common goal.
Developing new skills
As well as being emotionally draining, losing a spouse can be a big financial blow, especially if that spouse was still working at the time of his death. Many women in or approaching retirement may find that they want to supplement their income by continuing to work full- or part-time. Volunteering can give them the skills and experience necessary to find fulfilling work. Some may choose to develop skills they already have, while others may want to develop new skills. According to a recent study, volunteers have a 27 percent higher chance of finding a job than non-volunteers, and hiring managers report being more impressed with skilled volunteers than applicants with no volunteer experience.
An array of opportunities
The possibilities for volunteering are nearly endless. They include such varied activities as working for a local political campaign, tutoring children and serving food at a pantry. Talk with your clients about their hobbies to help them identify volunteer opportunities that match their particular interests. Clients who love animals might consider volunteering at an animal shelter, while those who love to garden can volunteer at a park or botanical garden. People with an interest in history or art can volunteer at museums or historic homes. You can point clients with a passion for travel toward programs such as Road Scholar's learning adventures, which offer educational and service trips to places around the world. And for clients interested in the outdoors, you might suggest volunteering to lead nature hikes, teach an outdoor education class or serve as a campground host for a national park, state park or local conservation area.
Many organizations can help find opportunities specifically for people 55 and older. ReServe connects professionals ages 55 and older with volunteer work in their field, whether it's marketing, event planning, fundraising, administrative support or IT. Some nonprofits offer opportunities for seniors in specific professions, such as the Medical Reserves Corp, which aims to improve the health and safety of local communities, and the International Senior Lawyers Project, which provides pro bono legal assistance for organizations in developing countries. The Senior Corps has a number of programs for volunteers 55 and older, including one that connects volunteers with children in schools and youth facilities. For an added incentive, some school districts offer property tax rebates in exchange for time volunteering in the classroom.
Make sure your clients' portfolios include a wide variety of assets. A guaranteed income source such as a variable annuity can help give your widowed clients needed peace of mind. But don't neglect to discuss the need for a balanced social portfolio, which can play just as big a role in helping your clients through difficult times. Volunteering should take a central place in many social portfolios, especially those of recently widowed clients. By encouraging these clients to volunteer, they'll not only live happier and healthier lives, they'll be more likely to repay you with their continued loyalty.
1 Stanford Center on Longevity, “The Sightlines Project: Seeing Our Way to Living Long, Living Well in 21st Century America,” February 2016
2 "The Health Benefits of Volunteering," Corporation for National and Community Service, 2007. (www.nationalservice.gov)
3 "The Effect of Widowhood on Husbands' and Wives' Physical Activity," Journal of Behavioral Medecine, August 2014
4 "The Health Benefits of Volunteering"
5 "Simple Changes, Big Rewards," Harvard Medical School, 2014. (www.health.harvard.edu)
6 "The Health Benefits of Volunteering"
8 "How Altruism Could Help Get You Hired," Wall Street Journal, August 2013 (www.blogs.wsj.com)
10 ReServe, 2017 (www.reserveinc.org)
11 Medical Reserve Corps, 2017 (www.mrc.hhs.gov)
12 International Senior Lawyers Project (www.islp.org)
13 Corporation for National and Community Service (www.nationalservice.gov)