Monday, June 9, 2008

ReServe Explores Sharing Its Model with Other Nonprofits

ReServe Board Member Sol Watson, ReServe Founder and Chairman Jack Rosenthal, ReServist David Krutchik, Chicago Department for the Aging Commissioner Joyce Gallagher, ReServist Kathy Murnion

Retirees looking for meaning and ways to use their skills and experience and nonprofits looking for seasoned talent have been slow to connect. But their parallel paths are now bending into arcs that create can-do circles, and ReServe, with a grant from the Retirement Research Foundation, provided a forum to offer support and share ideas.

ReServe Chairman Jack Rosenthal and Executive Director Claire H. Altman welcomed some 20 executives and staff from government agencies and non profits nine cities to this mid-May conference in New York City. Harnessing the unused talent of those who’ve retired from the private and public sectors with the needs of public programs is a concept whose time has come. It has everything to do with helping but little to do with volunteering because these people are paid. While pondering how to describe this “new” workforce what to label them and how to define the workplace, ReServe and other organizations have been developing ways to do this with solid results and have earned a vote of confidence from the Atlantic Philanthropies, funder of several programs represented. “We know that older adults can contribute and do better things for our society,” Stacey Easterling, Atlantic program executive, said. She added that her organization was excited about what is being done at ReServe. “We view this as an intriguing experiment.”

NYC Commissioner Edwin Mendez-Santiago and Chicago Commissioner Joyce Gallagher

New York City signed on to the ReServe experiment just a year ago. Commissioner Edwin Mendez-Santiago of the Department for the Aging (DFTA) and a keynote speaker, recounted how DFTA entered into what he called “a win-win” contract with ReServe just a year ago. The idea, he said, was that “City agencies with unmet needs for professional expertise would be able to draw on the skills and experience of retirees recruited and screened by ReServe.” ReServe is a perfect vehicle to offer to City agencies that are committed to increasing age diversity. DFTA is the lead agency for ReServe, coordinating and facilitating relationships among city agencies that signed on to the initiative. Today, nearly 65 ReServists are serving 15 city agencies and five other city agencies are in negotiations. Some 60 percent of the ReServists working for the city come from the private sector.

Phyllis Segal, another guest speaker, is vice president of Civic Ventures in Boston that promotes the value of experience in solving serious social problems. Segal said Civic Ventures may have hit upon a name for the movement of retirees from the private sector to the nonprofit sector: Encore Career, which she said, has the seriousness and level of commitment of work but has the spirit of service. “We are a culture, especially the Baby Boom generation, that defines ourselves by our work—and most people need to work. So we’re seeing a revolution in volunteerism, in unpaid work. And salary compensation, some type of tangible recognition, is a proxy for significance, a sign that you value yourself and that the organization that you work for values you.” Oxymorons such as “retirement jobs” and “stipended volunteerism” require explanation, she said, but, “everyone seems to know what an Encore Career is. It’s after your mid-life work, it’s a new stage of work, and it’s different from what you did before.” Also, she said, “it’s about giving back, working for the public good.”

Claire Altman, executive director, outlined the ReServe model and turned to whether and how nonprofits across the nation might benefit from ReServe’s experiences in the three years since it was founded. Recruiting able workers in the 50-plus population for pre-school, after-school and innovative classroom projects is one area in need of help. Just as critical is the need to develop the mechanics to provide at-home services for seniors that the government does not provide. Segal broached another area where ReServe might be invaluable to all nonprofits: Where will the next crop of leaders come from?

Suzanne Hines, consulting manager at United Way in Houston, said this issue is the largest they face. “We have so many people aging out. We recently got a grant from Shell for a leadership development program where we’re trying to focus on the next generation and succession planning. Altman said United Way did a study of nonprofits in New York City four years ago and found that half of today’s leaders will retire in the next five years. “Nonprofit leadership at the very top level is a big issue,” she said. “The people they will be hiring will be in their Forties and probably with MBAs, so they will need mentoring.” Segal said the job of executive director needs to be reshaped. “You’re looking at a generation that is not workaholic like the Boomers,” she said. The Annie E. Casey Foundation has been looking into the problem, and according to one study the prognosis so far isn’t good. Neal Naigus, assistant to the president at Portland (OR) Community College, said the experience is similar in seating new board members. One solution, he said, may be to invite executive directors retired from nonprofits to give young people the kind of leadership training they need to become effective board members. Carol Greenfield of Boston is founder of Discovering What’s Next: Revitalizing Retirement. The all-volunteer organization is in search of an executive director. “I wish we could have hired a ReServist,” she said, tongue in cheek. “It would have saved us a lot of money.”

Speaking of money, a general conundrum was acknowledged of how and how much to pay the non-staff community. ReServists receive $10 an hour for about 15 hours a week, no matter how much they had commanded in the private sector. Altman said ReServe has looked at several levels. There may be another, higher level of stipend for targeted consulting work, she said, but at the moment the fixed rate seems to work. David Krutchik, who had a career in marketing, spoke as a guest ReServist at the conference. He said he did not believe in the pay-for-performance model of the for-profit sector. “Getting paid $10 an hour is part of the contribution I’m making to the job, to ReServe and to continuing to be engaged in the world,” he said. The minute compensation becomes a ladder, he added, it could open a huge can of worms.

Ideas were many for recruiting paid volunteers in the over-50 age bracket, but those with goals of sustainability had added value. Civic Ventures, for example, has a pilot project in Silicon Valley in which corporations help move their soon-to-retire or recently retired employees into the social sector. Phyllis Segal stressed the need to develop a transition plan into Encore Career as early as age 45, “so that it is as natural to this generation as the idea of ‘Someday we’ll play golf’ was to our parents’ generation. As a society, we invent a new stage of life every century,” she said. “This is our turn to create a new stage of life.” Dick Goldberg, director of Coming of Age in Philadelphia, is among many who believe in working with partners. He has teamed up with Temple University and the PBS station to help promote civic engagement for the 50-plus crowd. “Replication is all about building partnerships and getting everyone in the community to make a commitment,” he said.

Coming of Age Director Dick Goldberg

One weakness in the movement is an inability to sell nonprofits on bargain-priced talent. “This sounds like marketing and communications to me,” Coming of Age’s Goldberg said. “How do you communicate customer benefit at a cheaper price? Just by saying what you used to do and it will be easy.” Altman found it an interesting way to talk about ReServe. Judy Norton from ReServe, agreed. She said when promoting ReServe to organizations, she tells them: “I was a senior vice-president at JP Morgan Chase for over 31 years, and I’m a ReServist.” Then all of a sudden it clicks.

Segal’s advice is to stress that organizations hiring ReServists are receiving a grant or pro bono service that has a value way beyond that. “As a nonprofit executive, I like to put this pro-bono, in-kind contribution on my financial statement. What you’re presenting is a grant of X dollars in order to get that of $10,000,” which is the annual cost of engaging a ReServist who works 15 hours per week.

Back to replication issues, Altman said ReServe has looked at a social franchise model of signing an organization onto quality elements of ReServe. In return, for an annual fee, the organization could tap into ReServe’s resources. Michael Funk, director of Experience Corps in San Francisco, noted that people involved with Experience Corps feel part of a movement because it has a national presence with 20 sites. He thought the same could happen for ReServe. Diane Redd, organizational consultant for the Organ Community Organization in Portland, said she believed nonprofits would embrace funding a replication model that’s branded and fee-based.

Commissioner Joyce Gallagher of the Department for the Aging in Chicago, said, “We’ve been thinking about this hierarchy of needs and giving back. But I think there’s a need to build a spirit as well as mind and body. “I think ReServe is a very spiritual program, and I’d like to bring it to Chicago.”

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