Career ends, nonprofit work begins

Move over, Bill Gates. You've got company.

The former full-time executive of Microsoft and present co-chairman of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is just one of an estimated 1.1 million baby boomers who have traded jobs in the corporate world for work at nonprofit organizations.

And millions more will follow, according to a recent survey by Civic Ventures and the MetLife Foundation. About three-fourths of the nation's 78 million boomers plan to work beyond the traditional retirement age, with as many as half saying they're interested in jobs that help others.

“We're seeing the beginnings of a large workforce for social change,” said Phyllis Segal, vice president of Civic Ventures, a think tank that tracks boomers in “encore careers” that offer not only a paycheck, but also the chance to do good.

More and more members of the generation that came of age at the dawn of the civil rights, environmental and women's movements in the 1960s and '70s are deciding to complete their careers at nonprofit agencies that feed the homeless, comfort the elderly and mentor the young.

As head of an executive search firm, Gwyneth Lloyd had built a successful career matching employers and employees. So when she became chief program officer for the Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas this spring, she knew it was the perfect fit.

The 54-year-old Dallas resident has raised two daughters, counseled young mothers in India and mentored businesswomen early in their careers. At the Girl Scouts, she's channeled that lifelong interest in nurturing girls and young women into a vocation she hopes will make a difference for 42,000 girls.

“When I was growing up, I never lacked for confidence,” she said. “I want every girl and young woman to have that same kind of self-esteem.”

The nonprofit's chief executive, Colleen Walker, said she values Lloyd's management expertise as much as her passion for her work.

“More than ever, our supporters expect results from their investment, and Gwyneth's solid business practices have helped make our organization more accountable,” Walker said.

Boomers' interest in charitable work comes as nonprofit agencies face a serious leadership deficit, said David Simms, an executive with the Bridgespan consulting group. A surge in retirements and a proliferation of nonprofit agencies will create a need for 640,000 senior managers over the next decade – more than double the current number, he said.

“To put that in perspective, it's like attracting half of every MBA graduating class at every college each year between now and then,” Simms said.

Many boomers leaving businesses for nonprofit agencies say they're tired of the corporate treadmill.

But making the move isn't always easy. The pay is less; the hours can be long. And workers used to companies' fast-paced decisions may become frustrated by the collaborative style at nonprofit groups, Simms said.

Still, many of those who have traded their jobs with for-profit companies to work for nonprofits have no regrets.

Nonprofit groups that want to capitalize on such interest from boomers will need to step up their recruitment, said Jill Casner-Lotto, a consultant for the Conference Board and author of the report “Boomers Are Ready for Nonprofits, But Are Nonprofits Ready for Them?”

The report concluded that agencies have done too little to educate midlife workers about encore careers. Though boomers may like the concept of working for a charitable organization, many have follow-up questions, Casner-Lotto said.