Nonprofits and the Boomer Talent Pool

Are you retired or near retirement and still want to work?  Are you in search of a second career?  You are not alone.  Many individuals in their 50s, and even 60’s  want to embark on second careers which offer flexibility and a sense of commitment and purpose.

In a 2007-2008 report from The Conference Board, titled “Boomers Are Ready for Nonprofits But are Nonprofits Ready For Boomers?”  encouraged nonprofits to take advantage of this unique population swell of relatively healthy but older individuals looking for some kind of meaningful affiliation.

It seems logical that a match between boomers and nonprofits would be a “no brainer” and that nonprofits would welcome these experienced, work-savvy individuals into positions commiserate with their expertise and educational background.  On the one hand, Boomers are looking to give back to the community.  On the other, nonprofits have a professed need for individuals to perform various tasks to support the agency’s mission.  Here is a seeming match made in heaven.

Like any relationship, the expectations of both parties have to be modified to encompass the reality of the situation.  Individuals working their whole adult life in the for-profit work world may be use to being results-oriented and feel out of place in a more process-oriented environment.

Some nonprofits are thrilled to find individuals with certain highly-developed skills who are willing to try out working in a non-profit job by doing volunteer work. Having not properly figured out how to best utilize these skills, the individual is left to languish in a pool of volunteers carrying out menial tasks.  Both parties can become disappointed and disillusioned.

This study included survey results from nonprofit employers, mature workers who made the switch to nonprofits and job seekers age 50 and older.  The report also features nine case studies of nonprofits employing boomers.  The following are insights from case studies:

Volunteerism:  This work relationship provides a gateway for the individual who still needs a monetary salary but wants to transition to a non-profit second-career position.  Creating professionally oriented volunteer opportunities for “second career seekers” will attract boomers and make the best use of their skills.  When a pay-position becomes available, nonprofits should consider qualified board members and older volunteers first.

Flexibility:  Boomers look for a culture which can accommodate their need for adjustable job roles, time schedules and compensation.  It is important that the nonprofit emphasize results not hours worked. In a flexible environment, trust should not exclude accountability emphasized in the forprofit world.

Tradeoffs:  Lower pay and less opportunities for promotion are balanced off by having a chance to learn new skills and apply old ones in fresh ways.   Forprofit veterans need to have a realist understanding of the non-profit environment which can be as stressful as their former work environment.

Adaptability:  Personnel interviewing “second career seekers” should ask them how they see the possibility of using their for-profit skills in this new work setting.  Older individuals should keep this question in mind as they evaluate each nonprofit setting.

The emphasis of a nonprofit is on obtaining something for the client which alters the pace and focus of the work environment.  For a person having spent their whole work career in the forprofit world, it might be somewhat of a “culture shock. ” Nonprofit leaders need to understand how to be a positive guides to insure a successful adjustment for the older individual seeking a second career.

Collaboration:  With an emphasis on working in multigenerational teams, human resource strategies needs to be explained in terms of an over all  business strategy to benefit the client and organization.  To make learning needs of “second career seekers” meaningful, they have to linked with the personal and as well as the organizational goals of the agency.

Passion and Pragmatism:  These watchwords strike the balance which nonprofits need to follow when incorporating older individuals from the forprofit environment.  Boomers who want to start a second career, often have a longing to receive a sense of satisfaction from their employment, which comes from a need to see a clear connection between one’s work and its outcome.  Having a desire to make a difference and understanding time and other limitations of one’s job contributes to identifying those qualities which constitute a fruitful match.

Switching sectors to create a second career can be tricky and daunting for you.  Sometimes the nonprofit as well as the individual can benefit by the assistance of a third party who acts as a “matchmaker.”  The report describes  a New York City agency, ReServe Elder Service, Inc., which takes such a role.

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