Helping Boomers Switch from For-Profit to Nonprofit Work

***This article was originally published on American Society on Aging***

The Conference Board of Canada’s A Perfect Match? How Nonprofits Are Tapping into the Boomer Talent Pool report encourages nonprofits in the service sector to consider baby boomer talent at a time when social services are in high demand. The Conference Board is a nonprofit that researches and analyzes economic trends.

As the report points out, boomers interested in working longer will find in nonprofits a great way to use their talent, skills and energy. Or nonprofits might fit as an encore career for those who spent the majority of their work life in the corporate or business sector.

The report studied nine nonprofit organizations demonstrating a business case for attracting and retaining mature workers, and it featured replicable strategies and practices. Alpert Jewish Family & Children’s Service in West Palm Beach, Fla., is one organization that has engaged boomers for their broad experience and generally exceptional work ethic. At Alpert, boomers enhance the agency’s capacity to strengthen the community and help people though challenging times in their lives. Creating a culture where boomers are valued requires strategic intent and a commitment to promoting change and meeting the complex challenges of an older workforce.

At this past March’s Aging in America conference in Chicago, I represented the perspective of nonprofits on a panel addressing workforce issues. When working with volunteers and employees, there are adjustments from both the boomer and organizational perspective, including the following:

  1. Boomers may struggle to find a level of comfort in nonprofit settings as they come to understand the unique nonprofit environment.
  2.  Nonprofits can avoid false expectations by working to understand the corporate business culture that employed so many experienced workers.
  3.  Resource constraints are often the greatest transition challenge for those coming from the private sector, as most nonprofits are unable to provide even the small perks provided by for-profit companies.
  4.  Nonprofits must provide an orientation for older workers, with a focus on acculturation to nonprofit life including governance boards, fundraising environment, client advocacy, the organization’s vision, mission and leadership responsibilities.
  5.  Both boomers and nonprofits need to work to manage resistance to change.
  6. Nonprofits are encouraged to brand their organization as a place where people can learn and grow. Boomer “switchers” are looking for fulfillment, interested in doing something meaningful and want to engage in lifelong learning.
  7. Nonprofits need to offer flexibility and health benefits, when possible, to make up for lower pay.
  8. Both boomers and nonprofits should focus on transferable business skills and best practices to design jobs that are the “best fit” for experienced workers.
  9. Nonprofits should look for individuals who can combine passion with pragmatism. Nonprofits tend to be focused on process, which can be frustrating for those coming from the corporate sector. Consensus building is more common in nonprofits than it is in the faster-paced corporate world.
  10. Nonprofits should involve their boards and top leadership in transitioning boomer workers and older volunteers.
  11. Nonprofits should create an inclusive culture that encourages multigenerational participation and teamwork.

Nonprofits that focus on results, not on hours worked, will more likely provide the greatest flexibility for “switchers” and older employees. When considering the boomer talent pool, nonprofits can excel at engaging volunteers as a strategy to build organizational capacity. It is an exciting time for nonprofits, which stand to reap the benefits of boomers who want to give back and engage in a cause.

This article was brought to you by the editorial committee of ASA’s Business Forum on Aging (BFA).