Over 50 and looking for a job to serve the greater good? You’re not alone

In our recent job seeker survey we discovered that 30% of job seekers are over the age of 50. We invited Encore.org, a nonprofit that helps people find meaningful careers in their second half of life, to talk about what this means for job seekers and organizations.

by Marci Alboher, Vice President, Encore.org

It’s no surprise that Idealist’s recent research shows an increase in the over-50 crowd searching for nonprofit jobs. Some feel it’s time to give back after years of other kinds of success. Others are done with the for-profit sector – after it decided to be done with them.

Still others have always worked in cause-oriented environments and are ready for new challenges. According to the latest Encore.org research, 9 million people ages 44 to 70 are in encore careers – second acts for the greater good – and another 31 million are interested in launching their own encores.

Dick Goldberg is one of those 9 million. And he’s one of the lucky ones: He landed in just the right place.

Though over the age of 50, Dick Goldberg found a great nonprofit career opportunity. (Photo Credit: Dick Goldberg)

An accomplished playwright and screenwriter, Goldberg wrote for various television shows, including the hit comedy “Kate & Allie,” in the 1980s. In time, Goldberg – also a capable musician – began using his skills to contribute to causes he cared about.

He wrote and directed a cabaret fundraiser for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society; created a video about Philadelphia history for the Franklin Institute’s launch of its Imax theater; penned sermons for rabbis on behalf of the Anti-Defamation League. He felt increasingly drawn to make this kind of work more central to his life.

Offhandedly, he told his daughter, a “social activist who gets things done,” that if the right nonprofit job came along, he’d take it. She suggested he start looking around on Idealist.org.

The first time he browsed the site, he saw a posting for a job at Coming of Age, an initiative that helps boomers become volunteers and helps nonprofits best use the talents of the 50-and-older set: “My approach was fairly narcissistic,” he recalled. “I’m doing that and loving that. So clearly that’s what we all should be doing.”

When Goldberg was hired at 57, he was a natural fit for an organization whose mission was to help people 50-plus figure out next steps and connect and contribute to their communities. “I was all about that and had an inside view,” he told me.

Meanwhile, is the rest of the nonprofit sector ready to embrace 50- and 60-year olds, and are 20- and 30-somethings eager to work alongside people who remind them of their parents – or grandparents? Would Goldberg have received a warm welcome in a tech-driven environment loaded with 20-something engineers? (In that setting, would a woman be as welcome as a man?)

It depends. But savvy organizations of all kinds (not just in the nonprofit arena) are finding ways to leverage the assets of people in different generations. When a 60-year-old can relate experiences of being in a consciousness-raising group in the ’70s and a 20-year-old can translate those lessons into a viral video campaign, all of us stand to gain.

So let’s start putting pressure on organizations to value age diversity as much as other kinds.

It can start with the job seekers. As you consider your prospects, look around and see who’s in the office. Do you see folks like you – whatever age you are? Ask whether the organization encourages cross-generational mentoring (younger and older employees advising each other in their areas of expertise). Will you be the only one texting – or the only one not on Facebook? Maybe the next Idealist survey can report on the steps nonprofits are taking to best utilize a multigenerational workforce.

Have you seen examples of successful multi-generational workplaces? Or do you have ideas about what nonprofits can do to make the workplace friendlier to all ages? We’d love to hear about them – and so would the millions of people looking for encore careers. So please leave a comment below or email me at info@encore.org. And spread the word!

Marci Alboher is a Vice President of Encore.org, a nonprofit that promotes second acts for the greater good. She is also the author of the forthcoming book, “The Encore Career Handbook – How to Make a Living and a Difference in the Second Half of Life,” to be published by Workman Publishing in January 2013.

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Marci Alboher is a Vice President of Encore.org, a nonprofit making it easier for millions of people to move into encore careers. She is the author of the newly released Encore Career Handbook: How to Make a Living and a Difference in the Second Half of Life (Workman 2013).
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    • Nancy
    • August 14, 2012

    Well, this article is nice but although uplifting, doesn’t help the average person who NEEDS a job and would prefer to, or has always wanted to work for a cause or to make a difference. The articles on Idealist (and elsewhere) generally seem to be about either young people starting out, or older people–successful middle class or above, with higher paying jobs–who successfully left careers on their own terms and with their benefits and retirement intact and were able to start over. People who had the money or family or backing to survive, relocate, start businesses, etc.

    I live in one of the 15 largest cities in the U.S. Age and physical appearance discrimination (must be young, slender build, very good looking) is standard and has been openly applied here for years. There are no corporations, few jobs, more than half the workforce is counted as unemployed and actively looking*, and it is not uncommon to find middle aged office managers, bookkeepers, career hotel management, etc. not only unemployed, but homeless.

    What I keep hoping to see on Idealist are actual opportunities for those who are not CEOs, Directors, CFOs, etc.; non-profits and companies that will hire older non-executive workers; and articles about real opportunities.

    * Those who have exhausted their unemployment benefits are not included.

  1. Hi Nancy,

    Thanks for your comment. You bring up an excellent point about discussing the challenges among job seekers from various backgrounds; this is certainly something we should explore more, here on Idealist and elsewhere.

    There are resources available that do a great job of tackling this issue, particularly by sharing the experiences of job seekers themselves. For example:

    Huffington Post: Unemployment Series http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/unemployment/

    Dress for Success Newsletter: Dress for Success provides professional clothing to economically disadvantaged women. Their newsletter highlights the stories of the women they help: http://www.dressforsuccess.org/news_publications.aspx

    While these aren’t the sole answer to unemployment (we need a much bigger conversation to address that) these can get us thinking more critically about what job seekers need. We’re also happy that organizations that DO address these issues, like the Boston Workers Alliance and Wildcat Services Corporation, are part of Idealist.org. We encourage you to reach out them as well.

    Thanks for pushing us to explore this more.


    • mark alan
    • August 14, 2012

    Marci: First, I have to say that I am looking forward to your book, although it will be hard to wait until January for it to be published.

    Allison: Nancy’s points are well-spoken. Yes, it may be illegal to discriminate based on age, but because the legal burden falls on the applicant, it’s very difficult to prove. But given that the whole work force is very mobile (and that long-standing, permanent jobs are a relic of the past), I think that the discussion needs to continue, RE: why employment decision-makers/HR “pros” cannot evolve their thinking about experienced candidates. I volunteer for one nonprofit, where the founder/executive director is marking 26 years at the same organization, but for the most part, all of the others I know at nonprofits or associations move positions frequently. It is the nature of the current world of Work. FYI: Idealist.org is a fantastic resource, and I the employer point-of-contact do respond to inquiries.

    • mark alan
    • August 14, 2012

    One point to add. One organization (based in NYC) that is looking for experienced volunteers, with specific skills sets is Catch A Fire. See the link here…


    • Eric Dayton
    • August 14, 2012

    Another organization that is worth noting is Experience Matters in Phoenix, AZ. There are over 1 million Baby Boomers in Maricopa County and 10,000 Nonprofits, and they work to match the available talent across all skill levels with voids in the nonprofit sector through paid and unpaid positions. http://experiencemattersaz.org/

    • May
    • August 14, 2012

    I looked at the “Coming of Age” website, and only one (1) paid position was offered in all of NYC. Unpaid “opportunities” do not help if one has no income at all and is facing becoming homeless. And it is true that nonprofits can be the worst when it comes to age discrimination. I recently lost out on two desperately needed positions to people 20 years my junior, but with zero experience in the area of advocacy these jobs involved. It’s horrible.

    • Meena
    • August 24, 2012

    Thank you for publishing this itonrmafion. I am always looking for a way to balance out the debt to income ratio when it comes to my investment in college. I am majoring in Human Services Management and already work at a non profit with plans to stay, but face a rather large student loan debt because I earn just enough to not qualify for financial aid.

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