Work & Purpose

Second Careers for Non-Profit Leaders

Following the same path works for most

Giving back is nothing new to non-profit leaders. So, what do they do in retirement? Do they sit around and do nothing? Perhaps they search for a second career in which they keep all the money?


When you’ve spent a career trying to make the world a better place, chances are you’ll stay on the same path, according to a 2008 survey by Civic Ventures Encore Career.

The survey followed several non-profit leaders whose plans for a relaxed retirement shifted, allowing them to transition to personally meaningful, paid work that benefits society.

It doesn’t sound like much of a change. But what these leaders went looking for was a similar direction in their work life with less job stress and more lifestyle flexibility.

As one put it, “The work does not have to be all-consuming to be meaningful.”

All of the leaders ranked “personal meaning and fulfillment” and “serving others” as the most important criteria for the kinds of opportunities they preferred. Sure, they wanted to get paid as well, but none was eager to consider a job just for the money.

Among the career roles these non-profit leaders chose include interim executive director, executive of a smaller organization with a different mission, social entrepreneur and consultant.

Most of the people who took part in the survey were surprised at their high level of energy and finding that this “later” stage in life was so fulfilling.

“What matters and makes the difference is the mission and the fit of the mission to the person,” said one person who left a job with enormous management responsibilities for a smaller organization.

It wasn’t an easy or direct path for these people, with many having multiple experiences while developing ideas along the way. This showed that finding ways to enjoy the journey and accept evolving opportunities are important to the happiness they began searching for after leaving their longtime jobs.

Each person who took part in the survey reported being satisfied where he or she wound up. They said that getting there was just another learning experience. Their advice for people looking at the same situation is to start planning early, stay involved in professional networks, and don’t expect a direct path to your goal.

This article was originally published by Encore.org in 2010.

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