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May 4, 2023
If volunteering in retirement sounds appealing to you, you are not alone. More than ever, workers over 50 are looking toward careers in the nonprofit world, seeking a second chance at purposeful work.
In fact, according to Encore.org, more than 25 million Americans ages 50 to 70 are eager to share their skills, passions and expertise by volunteering to address social needs.Of those 25 million Americans, 4.5 million people identify themselves as already working in encore careers today, while another 21 million are preparing to move into their own encores, a study by Encore.org and Penn Schoen Berland shows.
“I think it’s a great market for an older worker — someone who’s looking for a second act close to retirement or once they’re retired,” says Kerry Hannon, Washington, D.C.-based career, retirement and personal finance expert. “This whole idea of doing work that actually has meaning and purpose is something that really resonates with the older age group.”
More than half of Americans (55%) agree that putting skills and expertise to use in some fashion to help others is an important part of how they view the stage of their lives that would follow a primary career. And 28% put volunteering in retirement at the center of their planning, according to the Encore.org study.
The rising interest — and engagement — in volunteering is clear. But before embarking on the next chapter, it’s important to first consider a few tips to help make the transition to volunteering in retirement as seamless as possible.
Finding work with a non profit or a volunteer opportunity can actually be challenging. You want to get the right fit for everyone. There are hundreds of ways to help in your own community — try contacting schools or hospitals, for example. You can also go farther – much farther – afield for a volunteer adventure.
Here are a few organizations that can help you find a rewarding volunteer in retirement gig near home or somewhere far away:
Koya Leadership Partners has connected millions of people with a great place to volunteer and helped tens of thousands of organizations better leverage volunteers to create real impact.
Senior Corps is a network of national service programs for Americans 55 years and older, made up of three primary programs that each take a different approach to improving lives and fostering civic engagement. Senior Corps volunteers commit their time to address critical community needs including academic tutoring and mentoring, elderly care, disaster relief support, and more.
The National Park Service offers a variety of volunteer opportunities for individuals and groups as part of the Volunteers-In-Parks program. Work behind the scenes or on the front line in positions ranging from a one-time service project/ volunteer event to a longer term position, serving alongside park employees or with one of our many partner organizations.
The Peace Corps is not just for youngsters. Your experiences will be an asset in your host country to both your community members and your fellow Volunteers. Use your skills to help a community learn about business or technology, inspire a new generation in the classroom, or transfer your love for sports or a hobby into a youth development program. Hear from senior volunteers about their Peace Corps experiences or browse available volunteer openings.
A partner of AARP, Create the Good has a simple quick online questionnaire that quickly matches you to volunteer opportunities.
Global Volunteers was granted Special Consultative Status with the United Nations in 1999, and formalized a relationship with UNICEF in 2008. Through high-level associations, their international volunteer service work protects children’s security and welfare as they address hunger, health, poverty and educational issues at the community level around the world.
VolunteerMatch has connected millions of people with a great place to volunteer and helped tens of thousands of organizations better leverage volunteers to create real impact.
Don’t just jump into the nonprofit world; start planning in advance – especially if you want to get paid for your good work.
“The people who are most successful at making career transitions start three to four years ahead of time,” says Hannon, AARP’s jobs expert.
For some people, this transition might happen before retirement; for others, it might happen during retirement. Among those in encore careers today, 44% transitioned into new roles between ages 45 and 54, and 44% in the next decade, from 55 to 64, according to Encore.org.
Some popular nonprofit fields for 50+ workers include finance (accountants, bookkeepers), marketing, sales, fundraising, event planning and public relations, Hannon says. Whatever the field — or organization — seek out positions that can benefit from your lifetime of knowledge and experience.
“You’re not reinventing yourself in a second career in the nonprofit world; you’re re-deploying [your skills],” Hannon says.
Volunteer as soon as possible — both with the organization you have your sights set on as well as others.
If you’re not yet retired, spend some time volunteering on the weekends or in the evenings to get your feet wet in the nonprofit world, while adding some helpful skills and experience to your portfolio.
The same holds true for those who are already retired: “Volunteering is critical,” Hannon says.
It can be the gateway to networking, board member positions and potential job opportunities.
Many volunteer organizations will offer you training, but getting started on your own can be a good idea. Learning new skills or taking a few extra college courses will help prep you for an encore career or exciting adventures.
“If you know ahead of time that this is a move you’re interested in making, take some classes or ramp up your skills with a workshop,” Hannon says. “See what courses are out there that offer an introduction to different fields.”
The University of Connecticut, for example, offers a program called Encore!Hartford, which focuses on the differences in best practices between corporate and nonprofit business management, examining where practices mesh as well as differ.
“This process will enable you to identify the transferable skill sets you bring to the nonprofit sector from your prior work experience,” the program overview states.
Another program, the Pace Encore Transition Program at Pace University in New York, provides a five-day series of evening classes that promise to prepare students for meaningful work in nonprofit and public service organizations.
Check the local colleges and universities in your area to see if similar programs are available.
Whether you’re tech savvy or not, making a stellar LinkedIn profile — complete with volunteer experience and causes you care about — is a must for launching into the nonprofit world.
“No matter what kind of second act you’re looking for, you’ve got to have a great LinkedIn profile,” Hannon says.
If you think volunteering for your local church, food pantry or animal shelter isn’t important to include in your profile, think again.
More than 40% of LinkedIn hiring managers consider volunteer work equally as valuable as paid work experience when evaluating candidates, according to a LinkedIn survey. Additionally, 20% of hiring managers in the U.S. agree they have hired a candidate because of their volunteer work experience.
When launching into an encore career, volunteer work is especially important, because “often, that volunteer work leads to a position at a nonprofit,” Hannon says.
Though working at a nonprofit provides a “paycheck with a purpose” for those beginning their encore careers, workers should be cognizant of some of the financial challenges that come with it.
More than two in three (67%) of those already in encore careers experienced gaps in their personal income during the transition to their encores, reporting that they earned no money (24%) or that they earned significantly less during the transition than they earned at their previous jobs (43%), according to a MetLife Foundation survey.
Of those who experienced time with little to no income, nearly four in five (79%) say they experienced a gap of six months or more, while 36% say their income gap lasted more than two years. Most of those who answered (65%) say they relied on personal savings alone to make ends meet.
Because of these challenges, it’s important to make sure your finances are stable before making the transition. Working with a financial advisor can be money and time well spent. Or, you might try an online retirement calculator.
“Money is the biggest stumbling block for people who want to make a move into the nonprofit world or are just starting a second act,” Hannon says. “The most important thing is to be as financially fit as possible.”
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