No Leftovers Please

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on July 28th, 2011 in Articles, Thoughts & Commentary

1 comment

I don’t like being considered second best.  Yet, when I hear people looking to the nonprofit sector as the top choice for their “encore career” (don’t even like that term!), that’s what I hear.

Oh, now that you have done the real work of your life, go to the nonprofit sector.  Forget that thinking!  We are not second best.  Not good enough for the first choice of a career, but okay for the encore—the light, flip, “everyone can do it at the drop of the conductor’s baton/lifting of the curtain” piece, while many are leaving the hall and only some of the audience is staying around to pay attention.

That is NOT what this sector is all about.  Don’t get me wrong; I love the fact that folks are finally seeing the light and recognizing the hard and good work the nonprofit sector does.  But all of this hoopla and rejoicing because baby boomers  are turning to the nonprofit and public sectors for their encore careers leaves me a bit annoyed.  Where is the hoopla, rejoicing, celebration for all of the people who have spent their first and entire careers in the nonprofit and public sectors?  Where are the kudos for and people profiles on those who sacrificed the big bucks for their entire careers to improve society?  Oh, not there!

But the headlines abound on folks finding encore careers in the nonprofit and public sectors.  Apparently, “feel good” and “doing good” are part of what makes an encore career an encore career.—a truly great website for anyone looking for that encore career or looking to hire someone seeking an encore career—describes an encore career as combining  “personal fulfillment, social impact and continued income, enabling people to put their passion to work for the greater good.”  The banner on the website says “[en]core careers combine purpose, passion and a paycheck.”  Elsewhere on the website, it talks of “purpose-filled careers in the second half of life.”  According to, the top five places to find an encore career are education (a nonprofit), government, health care (frequently, but not always a nonprofit), environment (again, frequently, but not always a nonprofit) and the nonprofit sector overall.  Yet how many of us combined purpose, passion and a paycheck in the first half of our lives? Kudos, please?

According to the 2008 MetLife Foundation/Civic Ventures Encore Career Survey (Civic Ventures publishes and, among many other interesting things, offers the really neat Purpose Prize), over half of the 80 million baby boomers are currently in or looking to be in an encore career as described above.  What’s hot?  Top of the list is advocacy on behalf of a cause in which the boomers believe;  almost another third want to work with children and youth, followed closely by   preserving the environment and teaching.  Community safety, fighting poverty, religion, the elderly and health care round out the list of desired mission-based work.

With 76 million people making up the baby boomer generation, it is no wonder that a cottage industry of supports for encore careerists and has sprung up, such as .  In 2008, IBM partnered with Bridgestar to provide its employees with a new option to its midlife career transition offerings:  transitioning to nonprofits.  The Encore Career Institute recently announced that it had raised $15M from venture capital firms to provide on-line education (through UCLA) to baby boomers to equip them for their encore careers, regardless of where those careers will be.

The American Association of Community Colleges has the Plus 50 Initiative which is designed to change the way community colleges around the country respond to the learning and re-tooling needs of the plus 50 generations.

This is all truly wonderful, and as a baby boomer, I am delighted to know of all of the supports that will help me in my next career.   But I am still not happy.  For what really worries me about the encore employees is whether they will take jobs from the lifers.  From the first Bridgespan study that revealed the need for 640,000 executive directors over the next decade, people have been looking to the encore (though it wasn’t called that then) careerist to fill the void.  Thinking is they’d have “better” (meaning business) skills; they’d know how to run a business.  And knowing how to run a business is absolutely a crucial responsibility of a nonprofit executive director; but “getting” and living the mission are equally important.  You can teach people the skills needed to run a business; you cannot teach passion for a mission.

We are not the leftover sector—the part that comes when everyone has enjoyed the real show, the part that you can take or leave.  And the employees of the sector who have dedicated their careers—dedicated their lives—to work in the sector that improves the quality of life for all deserve just as much, if not more, attention than those who are doing it as the sign off to their careers.








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