More than 10,000 of our grandmas and grandpas, moms and dads, retire each day in the United States to pursue the passions they may have had to put aside while they were caring for us: reading, gardening, volunteering, spending time with grandchildren. By 2035, for the first time in our nation's history, the number of Americans 65 or older will outnumber children.
Though they enrich our lives and our neighborhoods immeasurably, our seniors’ ability to stay in their homes with dignity is not assured. Stairs get harder to climb. Repairs are harder to afford. Perils build over time. How many of you worry about getting a call that your aging loved one has fallen? I know I do. How we as a compassionate nation respond to the growing needs of our elders is a defining moment for this generation. If we fail to show up on this issue, we will resign them to a growing hardship at the very moment when they need our help the most.
The good news is that there are many organizations across the country that are working hard to rethink the systems of support we need in place to make sure we all have what we need as we age. This week, I was thrilled to speak to hundreds of strong, adaptive leaders paving the way for solutions at the Tennessee Health and Housing Summit, sponsored by our partners at Habitat for Humanity of Greater Memphis.
Habitat is starting to turn its decades of homebuilding expertise to the work of addressing the housing and health needs of seniors – providing the meaningful home repairs and adjustments needed to keep our loved ones safe in their homes. But real impact comes with scale, so they asked me to provide guidance on how to make the strongest case to partners and funders for their work. I share some of my points here, in hopes that they can be helpful to a strong and growing field of changemakers working on aging in place solutions.
Caring for our seniors is not a technical problem, it’s an adaptive one. Remind people that our actions right now determine whether or not we are on the road to a better future for all of us. As one of the panelists said during the summit, “aging is a universal experience, if we are lucky”.
Deliver the good news first! While it’s true that senior poverty and homelessness are growing at an alarming rate, the good news is ALWAYS more persuasive than scary statistics. Don’t forget, we know what works to help seniors, we have strong cost/benefit and outcomes data to support our approach, and respected institutions like Habitat have a proven track record of bringing people together to do this work well. What we need is SCALE!
Remember that growing demand for your services is not enough to bring new champions to your work – if it was, we wouldn’t need summits to talk about it! You must explain WHY repairing and modifying senior housing matters to the community at large – even those who may never need it -- and to the institutions who can help bring it to scale. The “why” may be different depending on the specific stakeholders you are talking to, so take as much time listening to your stakeholders talk about THEIR needs as you do communicating about the needs of those asking for your services. Do they care about protecting their loved ones? Reducing community health care costs? Creating jobs? Spoiler alert – the “why” will be different depending on the specific stakeholders (residents, hospitals, health insurers, housing finance agencies, schools, houses of worship, etc.) you are talking to.
Position your work as “strengthening the infrastructure of wellbeing” in your community rather than just delivering services to seniors. “Aging in place” conversations often devolve into discussions about the needs of individual people, which limits our ambition and the size of our response. Our opportunity is to make it about community building and the infrastructure necessary to support the wellbeing of all of us.
Be clear about your value proposition to funders, policymakers, and anchor institutions, like hospitals, and build partnerships around the value that you bring. An intentional part of your effort must be forging partnerships beyond organizations that have a direct stake in your work. Build strong connectivity throughout Tennessee by bringing people together for a bigger purpose, including partners, families, stakeholders, sponsors, and community volunteers.
We all benefit when our seniors age in place with dignity. Thanks to the wisdom of our colleagues at Habitat, hundreds of leaders across the country were able to convene around this issue. To partner with Habitat Memphis and benefit your community, visit their site at: memphishabitat.com/sponsorship.