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The Boom in Job Seekers Looking for Encore Careers

Growing numbers of Americans over 50 want to serve the greater good, but more employers need to hire them

By Marci Alboher | September 8, 2012
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Marci Alboher is a vice president of Encore.org and author of the The Encore Career Handbook: How to Make a Living and a Difference in the Second Half of Life, published by Workman Publishing. You can follow her on Twitter at @heymarci.

Editor's note: A version of this article originally appeared on Idealist.org.

It’s no surprise that recent research from Idealist.org, an online source of volunteer opportunities and nonprofit jobs, shows an increase in the over-50 crowd searching for work at nonprofits. Today, 30 percent of job seekers on Idealist.org are over 50, a much higher share than a few years ago.

Some feel it’s time to give back after years of success in the for-profit sector. Others are done with the corporate world — after it decided to be done with them. Still others have always worked in cause-oriented environments and are ready for new challenges.

Millions Now Have Encore Careers

According to the latest Encore.org research, 9 million people ages 44 to 70 are in encore careers — second-act jobs for the greater good — and another 31 million are interested in launching their own encores.

(MORE: How to Find Firms That Value Older Workers)

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

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 and penned sermons for rabbis on behalf of the Anti-Defamation League.

But Goldberg felt increasingly drawn to make this kind of work more central to his life.

Finding the Right Nonprofit Job

Offhandedly, Goldberg 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 as a director at Coming of Age, a Philadelphia-based initiative that helps boomers become volunteers and assists nonprofits in using the talents of the 50-and-older set (WHYY, the PBS/NPR station, is one of the organizations behind Coming of Age). Goldberg realized he was a natural fit for an organization whose mission was to help people 50-plus figure out their next steps and connect and contribute to their communities.

“I was all about that and had an inside view,” he says. Today, Goldberg is director of the group’s national network and its Philadelphia branch.

Is the rest of the nonprofit sector ready to embrace workers in their 50s and 60s? And would Goldberg have received a warm welcome in a tech-driven environment loaded with 20-something engineers?

(MORE: A Screenwriter Turned Orphan Advocate)

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.

Push for Age Diversity

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

Have you seen examples of successful multigenerational work environments? Or do you have ideas about what nonprofits can do to make their workplaces friendlier to all ages?

I’d love to hear about them — and so would the millions of people looking for encore careers. So please email me at info@encore.org. And spread the word!