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Attracting Older Workers to the Nonprofit Sector

The Chronicle of Philanthropy is reporting today that nonprofit agencies lag behind business and government agencies in attracting older workers:

Nonprofit groups lag significantly behind government agencies and businesses in their efforts to keep and recruit older workers, a new report concludes.

"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 today by the Conference Board, a business research and membership organization in New York.

The article goes on to indicate that the combination of increasing numbers of jobs in the sector, particularly in healthcare and social services, along with the higher turnover rates in nonprofits (3.1% on average) may be putting many nonprofits in a bind if they fail to do something about it. Some of my thoughts:

  • Develop work options that are attractive to retiring boomers--the 20-hour work week, working from home or having a more "mobile" presence in the community with lots of scheduling flexibility.
  • Take a look at your job design. Are there ways you could recombine job responsibilities to allow for more flexibility or to capitalize on an older worker's particular talents or strengths?
  • Create work that is engaging and has impact--Most boomers don't like "busy work." Try to design job opportunities that allow older workers to use their areas of expertise and that will keep them engaged and interested in your organization.
  • Work with other nonprofits to implement a marketing campaign designed to attract older workers to the sector. One thought is to sponsor some kind of "What Will You Do in the Next Phase of Life" campaign where you help people take a look at their interests and talents and then help them decide how they could use these in the nonprofit sector. Here are some resources that could help in developing a career plan.
  • Talk to people who are retiring. Find out what would attract them to nonprofit jobs. Have them help you come up with ideas and a marketing campaign.

A few things off the top of my head . . . 


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I agree with you that this could represent a significant missed opportunity for nonprofits if they don't step up their efforts to attract these workers. I think that a lot of baby boomers in particular, as they consider what they want to do in later stages of their work lives (perhaps beyond the conventional retirement age), have a particular interest in nonprofits - and have a great deal to offer those organizations who are willing to provide meaningful, flexible work.

This is one of those areas where it may be necessary for the sector to band together and do some marketing and thinking about it, rather than leaving it to individual nonprofits. There's a lot of talk about the sector as a whole facing a leadership gap, etc. and this seems like a place for collective thinking and action. There might also be a place for collective sharing of talent so that an individual might be doing work for several nonprofits as as a sort of hired hand/free agent.

It appears this may be an issue with a real note of urgency. According to research by the Conference Board just released yesterday, the nonprofit sector is outpacing growth in the rest of the economy and will feel the upcoming talent shortages even more acutely than other organizations. All the more reason to tackle the issue of attracting elder workers! Link to Conference Board below:

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