Nonprofit Harnesses Older Professionals Willing to Share Experience

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June 5, 2012; Source: BusinessWeek

Armed with the desire to make the world a better place, many people who are approaching retirement are looking for ways to feel good about their work, and get paid for it, too. The nonprofit ReServe pairs professionals 55 and older with nonprofit groups or public agencies that can use their skills—at a discount. Over the past seven years, nearly 1,500 “ReServists” have been placed in a broad range of positions, including college mentors, bookkeepers, writers, teachers, paralegals, administrative assistants, doctors and nurses.

ReServists are saving nonprofits dollars. According to Janice Chu, the coordinator of the ReServe program for 17 New York City agencies, “We could never afford these social workers, these retired accountants. They’re such an asset with their years and years of experience.” New York City hosts the original and largest ReServe operation, but the nonprofit has branches in Westchester County, N.Y.; Newark, N.J.; Balitmore, Md., Miami, Fla. and southeast Wisconsin. On average, individuals who work with ReServe work about 15 hours a week at a $10 wage with no health benefits. According to Linda Breton, ReServe’s director of affiliate relations, “The stipend means everybody has skin in the game. A volunteer can say, ‘It’s a crummy day, I don’t think I’ll go in.’ A professional doesn’t do that.”

Breton says ReServe has more people than it can place. “Recruiting retired professionals has proven to be very easy. They’re passionate about something and they want to give back.” However, getting nonprofits to post positions is a bit more difficult. “Lots of them can’t afford people even at $10 an hour,” says Breton.

Reminiscent of AmeriCorps, VISTA and other types of service organizations, ReServe is providing a market for older individuals who would like to continue working as well as nonprofits that need highly experienced and skilled people but cannot afford the price tags associated with such labor. This “match matching” is an innovative strategy to bridge the talent gap. However, questions remain as to whether nonprofits are ready (structurally), willing (culturally) or able (financially) to host such employees. – Saras Chung