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Nonprofit Groups Lag in Recruiting Older Workers, Report Says

Resource type: News

The Chronicle of Philanthropy |

Nonprofit groups lag significantly behind government agencies and businesses in their efforts to keep and recruit older workers, a new report concludes – and that could jeopardize their ability to fill a growing number of job vacancies. “Many nonprofit leaders, boards, and funders show little interest in developing programs to attract and retain older adults as experienced executives, staff personnel, or volunteers in new, more professional roles,” says the report, which was issued last month by the Conference Board, a business-research and membership organization in New York. The report, which reviews major studies on nonprofit employment conducted over the past five years, was released here in conjunction with an announcement of the winners of a new award for organizations that have developed innovative programs to employ people at least 50 years old in public-interest jobs. The BreakThrough Awards – created by Civic Ventures, a think tank in San Francisco, and the MetLife Foundation, in New York – were given to 10 nonprofit groups and government agencies. “These employers recognize that new approaches to recruiting and retaining older employees can help them deliver on their critical missions,” Phyllis Segal, senior vice president at Civic Ventures, said in a statement. But the Conference Board report says employers like that are still in the minority – a dangerous situation given that charity jobs are increasing faster than those in other industries and nonprofit groups are projected to face a growing shortage of high-level skills as experienced executives retire. “Shortages are already affecting critical service sectors, including health care and social services, in which nonprofits are heavily represented,” the report says. Yet nonprofit groups have not invested significantly in human-resources management and they have trouble getting money from grant makers to do so, the report says. Negative stereotypes about older workers account for some of the slow progress, Diane Piktialis, a project leader for the Conference Board, told a news conference. But, she added, “in most cases it’s because it isn’t even on the radar screen. It’s something nonprofits have not even thought of.” The report cites several studies showing that nonprofit organizations are growing faster in number, revenue, and jobs than the overall economy. One, a study by the Center for Civil Society Studies at the Johns Hopkins University, found that the number of nonprofit jobs grew by 5.1 percent from 2002 to 2004, while the size of the work force as a whole declined 0.2 percent. Other studies show that nonprofit groups have a higher annual turnover rate (3.1 percent) than private or government employers (2.7 percent and 1 percent respectively) and that they are facing a leadership deficit as the number of charities increases at the same time that many executive directors are planning to retire. Yet charities have done little to reach out to new groups of potential employees such as baby boomers, ex-corporate managers, and other older adults who may want second careers in nonprofit work, the report says. The good news, the report says, is that the pool of potential older employees is growing as people live longer and stay in the work force longer – and as baby boomers express a strong interest in working for social causes. Spending on Recruitment The report reviews recommendations that experts have made to help nonprofit employers improve their records. They include spending more time and money on recruiting and developing senior managers, creating more part-time jobs, recruiting among groups such as government leaders and military officers moving to civilian life, and making volunteer programs more professional. Lester Strong, chief development officer at Building Educated Leaders for Life, in Dorchester, Mass., said his group discovered that mature workers offer an “amazing talent pool.” His organization has hired two people, for a stipend of $10 an hour, through ReServe, an organization in New York that won a BreakThrough Award for its program that places people 55 and older in part-time jobs with nonprofit groups or city agencies. One of the people the Massachusetts group hired is a retired advertising director who helped create an “extraordinary” annual report, Mr. Strong said, and the other is a retired economics professor who helps the organization raise big gifts. “These ReServists are serving as de facto mentors to our younger people and giving them a world view that they frankly didn’t have before,” he added. Claire Haaga Altman, ReServe’s executive director, said finding organizations to hire people has been more of a challenge than finding the workers themselves. She said ReServe, which was created in 2005, has received inquiries from more than 1,400 people about possible jobs, and has placed about 225 of them. “Retirees are so interested in finding something useful to do and using their professional skills,” she said. The Conference Board said it planned to create a new research group next fall to further study ways to help nonprofit groups attract and keep experienced workers. Its activities will be paid for out of a $2-million, three-year grant that the Atlantic Philanthropies, the foundation in New York, gave to the organization in 2005 to promote job opportunities for older people in both the corporate and nonprofit worlds. Civic Ventures created the BreakThrough Awards as part of its broader effort to promote projects to tap the experience and skills of older people. No money is attached to the awards. Separately, RespectAbility, in Washington, a program of the National Council on Aging that helps nonprofit groups use older people as volunteers and workers, announced winners last week of a new Models of Significant Service grant. It awarded two-year, $40,000 grants to 12 groups to help them develop entrepreneurial projects to attract people age 55 and older to leadership positions. The Conference Board report, “Boomers Are Ready for Nonprofits, But Are Nonprofits Ready for Them?,” and information about the BreakThrough awards are available on the Civic Ventures Web site.

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