February 8, 2013
Encore careers: Program lets experienced professionals give back
After a career that had spanned a few decades with large corporations including General Electric and Hewlett-Packard, Wendy Weissman, of Portland, Ore., had transitioned into semi-retirement by 2004. She had launched her own management consulting business, but Weissman knew there was more she could do to give back to her community.
In early 2011, she was asked by a philanthropic group called Social Venture Partners (SVP) to consider joining a pilot Encore Fellows project that matches professionals with nonprofits. “I’m a child of the ’60s,” Weissman says. “It was time for me to get back to purpose work.”
Last November, Weissman officially “graduated” from SVP’s Encore Fellows program, having put in 1,000 hours with Friends of the Children, a youth-mentorship nonprofit group. Utilizing her human resources expertise, she was able to put in place much-needed succession planning, leadership development and process-improvement programs.
There are an estimated 78 million baby boomers in the United States, many of whom have backgrounds that would allow them to parlay their skills into making the world a better place, says Jim McGinley (pictured below), the director of Seattle’s Encore Fellows program.
SVP acts like a broker, he says, to find talented, energetic individuals such as Weissman and identify groups that would be a good fit with their skills and interests. To date, McGinley says, the SVP chapter in Portland has supported 14 Encore Fellows since it began in 2011, and a Seattle chapter was launched a few months ago.
The candidates and nonprofits are decided based on two key criteria, McGinley says: It has to be an impactful position for the nonprofit, and the nonprofit must spend the necessary time to guide the fellow. Having a passion about cause work is sometimes even more valuable than direct experience. “Nonprofits are actually happy to get someone outside their industry to give them a fresh business perspective,” McGinley says.
In the next few weeks, Seattle SVP is expected to announce its first Encore Fellows in the Puget Sound region. The first Seattle host groups are likely to be the education organization Eastside Pathways, plus environmental groups the National Energy Efficiency Council and Climate Solutions.
“We’re looking for an individual with well-seasoned communication skills who can help us tell the story of climate change,” says Gregg Small, executive director of Climate Solutions.
Candidates for the fellowship must have at least 15 years of business-management experience and be willing to commit to about 1,000 hours for a six-month or one-year contract. Most candidates are in their 50s and 60s.
Fellows earn a modest stipend of $20,000 for a yearlong assignment, funded 50-50 by the host organization and by SVP, which ensures that both partners have some “skin in the game,” McGinley says.
“The money is not a living wage,” Weissman adds. “But I’m a semi-retired boomer, so it’s just the right size for my income.”
McGinley said the national SVP network, with 27 affiliates, had placed 250 fellows by the end of 2012. “We expect that number to grow dramatically,” he says. “Finding quality candidates who are looking for a second act in their careers is the least of our problems; the focus now is on finding the right companies.”
Though her one-year contract ended last fall, Weissman says she will continue working with Friends of the Children for the next two quarters, to help restructure the group’s program guide and also to train her replacement.
“My heart got hooked,” she says. “It’s a dream come true.”
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