Many baby boomers with long careers in the business world are now eyeing work in the nonprofit sector.
By Susan B. Garland
Suzanne Armstrong thrived in the corporate world, working for American Express and later consulting for Citibank, Deloitte and other behemoths. Her expertise: helping leaders build support for major change in a company’s vision or systems.
Several years ago, Armstrong went through her own transformation. She left big business and now taps her “change leadership” know-how as a consultant for nonprofits, splitting her time between Miami and Toronto.
When the Miami Art Museum was planning to move to a new location and expand its mission in 2012, the museum’s director asked Armstrong, who was a donor, to work with the leadership team to ensure a smooth transition for employees. (The museum changed its name to Pérez Art Museum Miami after the move.) Armstrong also found work at United Way, where she coaches executives at the organization. “I am tremendously fulfilled,” says Armstrong, 69. “It’s great to continue to do the same kind of work—and make a difference.”
For someone at Armstrong’s level of experience, the pay is nominal—about $20 an hour for about 15 to 20 hours a week. She is paid through the South Florida affiliate of ReServe, which places professionals ages 55 and older in part-time positions with nonprofit organizations and government agencies.
Like Armstrong, many baby boomers with long careers in the business world are now eyeing work in the nonprofit sector. About 21 million adults between the ages of 50 and 70 report that they would like to seek jobs that address social needs, particularly in education, health care, human services and the environment, according to a 2014 study by Encore.org and market research firm Penn Schoen Berland.
These second-act, social-impact jobs are known as encore careers, and the survey found that most who seek these jobs want work that will help them feel worthwhile. Facing perhaps decades in retirement, “it’s so incredibly important to make these extra years meaningful, useful and productive,” says Joan Tucker, director of the Encore Transition Program at Pace University, in New York City. The program’s continuing education workshops help boomers figure out how to create a purposeful retirement.
Use a Service That Finds the Right Fit
An excellent way to enter the encore market is by enrolling in a program that matches older professionals with high-level nonprofit work. The jobs are usually for part-time and short-term projects, but they sometimes lead to permanent work at the organization. Or, by making contacts and building their nonprofit bona fides, participants increase the odds of finding social-impact work elsewhere.
In 2016, the program, part of Encore.org, placed about 800 professionals in nonprofit organizations, up from about 200 in 2013.
Fellows earn a stipend of $20,000 to $25,000 for an assignment of about 1,000 hours, either part-time for a year or full-time for about six months. Depending on their expertise, fellows may develop marketing materials, build data-management systems, generate additional funding streams or create new performance measurements. The jobs “are not stuffing envelopes or serving meals at a church,” says Jim Emerman, executive vice president of Encore.org. “They speak to the higher-level needs of the organizations.” (To learn more about fellowships, go to Encore.org.)
Jonathan Reuman, a human resources executive, took a one-year assignment in October 2014 with Horizons for Homeless Children, in Roxbury, Mass., which provides early education to homeless children and support services to their families. ESC of New England, a member of Encore.org’s Fellowships network, set up Reuman’s placement.
Reuman, 61, who lives in Newton, Mass., spent most of his career as an HR executive with companies and large nonprofits that employed thousands. Although the nonprofits’ missions were admirable, Reuman no longer wanted to work grueling hours or climb the achievement ladder. “It was just burnout—I wanted more of the seeding of the heart and soul,” he says.
Horizons, which employs about 100 people, had just hired a new chief executive officer, Reuman says, and “she wanted someone with gray hair to challenge the organization’s thinking a bit.” He used his human resources skills to coach the top executives.
After his Horizons stint, Reuman decided to return to large nonprofits but at a slower pace, working as a part-time management consultant for a nonprofit that delivers services at more than 120 locations in Massachusetts to people with disabilities and mental health issues. “I’m at a point in my life where my goal is to pay more attention to my family and myself and contribute to my church and community,” he says.
Like the Encore Fellowships program, ReServe links older workers and nonprofits. Professionals work an average of 13 months in the New York City area, the Mid-Atlantic region, Boston or South Florida.
At ReServe South Florida, the jobs vary. One retired architect worked with a museum to make it more accessible, and another participant filled in as a temporary executive director of a local chamber of commerce, says Doreen LoCicero, the director. ReServe Success Mentors go into local schools with high absentee rates to work one-on-one with at-risk kids. That could mean tutoring a student or getting more cafeteria food for a hungry child. LoCicero recalls one mentor who helped a child get an instrument so that he could attend music class. “His grades turned from Ds and Fs to As and Bs,” LoCicero says. “It was a matter of helping him feel he mattered.”
Although the number of purpose-driven boomers is rising, many nonprofits are reluctant to hire older adults who are leaving for-profit jobs. Nonprofits sometimes “believe that the person will not necessarily stick around, or that someone from a corporation will have an attitude and not understand what it means to be mission driven,” Emerman says.
Encore.org, ReServe and similar placement groups are attempting to expand job opportunities by persuading nonprofits that they can benefit from tapping into the experience, maturity and passion of would-be encore careerists. The groups work closely with nonprofits to ensure the placements are a good fit.
Nonprofits that use encore professionals report they are pleased. Many former business executives helped improve service delivery, launch new programs and increase revenue, according to a 2014 Encore.org survey of 103 supervisors who used Encore Fellows, ReServists and retirees from other placement groups.
Just as nonprofits are wary of hiring older adults from the corporate world, some former business execs may suffer from “culture shock” when they move to the nonprofit environment, says Nora Hannah, chief executive officer emeritus of Experience Matters, in Phoenix, Ariz., which places professionals in paid and volunteer positions at agencies and social-impact organizations. Hannah recalls one individual who was frustrated that he had to go through many channels to get his ideas approved. “He was used to getting his recommended improvements implemented immediately,” she says.
Build Your Skills: Take a Course or Volunteer
If you want to go it on your own, be prepared to spend many months figuring out the kind of encore career you want to pursue, expanding your network of contacts and burnishing your credentials.
You can seek one-on-one guidance from a life coach who specializes in retirement planning. Also, you may be able to find a local program by checking Encore.org’s list of network organizations, which promote social-impact jobs for older adults.
At Pace’s Encore Transition Program, which started in 2013 and costs $795, participants have included executives in advertising and financial services, physicians, accountants, lawyers and engineers, says Tucker, the director. The average age of participants is 61.
During three four-hour workshops, participants listen to guest speakers who have successfully shifted from corporate work to social-purpose careers. Nonprofit executives discuss their staffing needs. A life coach helps students identify goals and skills that can apply to nonprofit careers. The program also provides tips on writing résumés, researching nonprofit job opportunities and using social media to market oneself. “We are not a job-placement program, but a program for the exploration of opportunities,” Tucker says.
Tucker says participants learn that their marketable skills go beyond the jobs they hold. “Maybe they mentored someone or became involved in a local community organization,” she says. “They may have a rich set of skills that emanate from their experiences.”
Constance Harris was looking for a career change when she took Tucker’s first workshop in 2013. Harris was an employment lawyer, and her last job was as a human resources executive at a large bank. Harris says she spent a lot of time working on employee-termination agreements during a bank merger and later during the 2008 financial downturn. “It was just too distressing,” says Harris, who is now 70. “It’s nice to work on Wall Street and get bonuses, but it was not enough.”
After 22 years at the bank, Harris resigned in 2009. She knew she wanted to do something with a social purpose but did not know what path that would take. With a master’s degree in library science, Harris volunteered as assistant to the director of volunteer services at the renowned Morgan Library & Museum, in New York City. Then she heard of the Pace course. “I was comforted that there were like-minded people who were struggling with their own identity when they left the workforce,” she says. For now, Harris’s encore job is as a part-time employee of the Pace program, assisting Tucker as an instructor, editor and legal aide.
In the Boston area, retirees and those approaching retirement can take a group seminar run by Discovering What’s Next, which is part of ESC Consulting. A facilitator running the Discovering Your Encore seminar helps participants look at various pieces of the “encore puzzle,” says Susan Ogle, who runs many of these sessions. What are your favorite causes or passions? Music, the environment? What are your strengths? Planning, teaching, writing? Would you like an operations position, such as in fund-raising or human resources, or would you prefer working directly with, say, children or the homeless? Do you want to volunteer or get paid? Local community groups sponsor the seminars for free.
A former management-training executive, Ogle directs participants to fill out worksheets and break into pairs to bounce off ideas. Those who want to continue the encore process can speak by phone with a “transition navigator,” who will offer guidance on finding work. Besides running workshops, Ogle is one of 150 volunteer consultants for ESC, which sends small teams of retired executives to advise nonprofits on marketing, finance and other management issues.
If you cannot attend a workshop, Discovering What’s Next sells two $15 online books that include worksheets, tips and resources for finding the right encore match.
For additional training, many community colleges and university continuing education programs offer courses aimed at nonprofit work, such as grant-writing, fund-raising and volunteer management. Some community colleges offer programs in alcohol and drug counseling, child development, art therapy and gerontology.
Also try volunteering to gain more experience and expand your network. “You can test the waters, learn the issues, try out different things and see what makes you feel jazzed,” says Marci Alboher, vice president of marketing and communications at Encore.org and author of The Encore Career Handbook (Workman, $16). The book includes resources and tips for finding work in social-impact endeavors.
If you have skills that could be in high demand, meet with executives at a nonprofit or two and offer consulting services at no cost. Catchafire.org matches professionals with nonprofits that need help with short-term projects, such as fund-raising and annual-report writing. People with professional experience offer consulting services through the Executive Service Corps Affiliate Network. And Experience Matters’ Service by Design places professionals with nonprofits for short-term pro bono projects.
You can check out other volunteer websites to find opportunities. They include VolunteerMatch.org, CreatetheGood.org and HandsOnNetwork.org.
To further expand your network, attend public events conducted by nonprofits in fields that interest you, whether it be the environment or criminal justice. Target your LinkedIn network for possible contacts. Invite friends in the nonprofit sector to meet for coffee—and then ask them to spread the word.
Look at job boards specializing in nonprofits. They include Idealist.org, WorkforGood.org, the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s job site and the Foundation Center’s Philanthropy News Digest.
Think about any skills that could be valuable to a nonprofit. You will need to tailor your résumé and cover letter to highlight skills that may not be evident from your corporate credentials.
Take the retired Intel engineer who won an Encore Fellowship sponsored by his former employer. “Most nonprofits don’t need electrical engineers, but his passion was music and playing the guitar,” says Experience Matters’ Hannah, which placed the fellow with a music conservatory. Combining his engineering and musical skills, he built recording studios that music students now use to make the recordings they need for their college applications.