Nonprofits Urged to Hire Older Workers, Boost Talent

By Kathy Gurchiek Jun 6, 2007

Talent shortages brought on by the approaching retirement of baby boomers could hit nonprofit organizations particularly hard, says a new report released by The Conference Board.

“Growth in the nonprofit sector is outpacing growth in the rest of the economy. Shortages are already affecting critical service sectors, including health care and social services, in which nonprofits are heavily represented,” Jill Casner-Lotto writes in the report, Boomers Are Ready for Nonprofits But Are Nonprofits Ready for Them?

Many nonprofits—especially small and midsize ones—lack the “staffing depth to develop younger leaders coming up in the organization,” as well as time and money, she added.

By 2016, nonprofits will need 640,000 new senior managers and will need to recruit 80,000 new professional and management staff, according to Diane Piktialis, leader of The Conference Board’s Mature Workforce Program.

With many boomers expecting to work beyond traditional retirement age—although not necessarily for the same employer—hiring people over the age of 50 for part-time work could fill the leadership gap, the report suggests.

It could be a good match. A considerable number of retirement-age boomers in the private sector are considering nonprofit work as “encore” jobs that allow them to use their experience and skills in ways that give back to the community, the report says.

Tapping into that resource will require new strategies by nonprofits, which in the past have not invested significantly in human resource management, Piktialis said during a joint May 31, 2007, press conference in Washington, D.C., with the MetLife Foundation.

Typically nonprofits funnel their limited resources toward their mission instead of putting succession plans in place or identifying and growing leaders from in-house talent, Piktialis said

In addition, they have shown little interest in hiring mature workers. Often the idea of recruiting workers over age 50 “isn’t even on the radar screen,” but nonprofits could be missing out on what Piktialis called “amazing opportunities” for stemming a talent shortage.

Potential Assets

Ten nonprofit organizations around the United States who have harnessed that potential were recognized by the MetLife Foundation’s first BreakThrough Awards:

  • Allied Coordinated Transportation Services (ACTS) Inc. in Pennsylvania hired experienced, retired drivers to provide door-to-door rides. The program provided 92,000 trips for 1,158 riders made up of older adults, the sick, the disabled and children whose mothers are in welfare-to-work programs.
  • Leesburg Regional Medical Center and The Villages Regional Hospital in Florida
  • cut costs and medical errors and created a more stable workforce by recruiting more than half of its employees over the age of 50 to work with predominantly older patients.
  • Mature Worker Connection, a program of the Pima Council on Aging in Arizona, offers free job placement services for people over age 50. One-third of their first 201 placements were in nonprofit or public sectors.
  • Nursing Home Ombudsman Agency of the Bluegrass Inc. in Kentucky hired 33 people ages 50 and older to work eight to 35 hours per week to provide support for people in nursing homes.
  • Older Workers Leading Success (OWLS), a program of Cleveland Metroparks in Ohio, recruited more than 150 people over age 50 for part-time and seasonal work in the agency’s offices and areas such as hiking trails, a zoo and golf courses.
  • Rainbow Intergenerational Child Care Program, a program of the Little Havana Activities and Nutrition Centers of Dade County in Florida, employs 30 certified child care workers over age 50.
  • Troops to Teachers in Washington, D.C., has helped 10,000 military veterans become public school teachers in high-needs schools.
  • YMCA of Greater Rochester in New York recruits older workers to match their changing demographic. Its turnover rate for those 50 and older is 2 percent.
  • Retiree Work Opportunities Program at the University of California, Berkeley Retirement Center, created a web site to connect former staff to current short-term and part-time openings. Eighty percent of listed job are filled by former employees.
  • ReServe Inc. in New York City has become a source of skilled employees who are over age 50. They work an average of 15 hours per week, about 46 weeks of the year.


The approximate 77 million boomers are “healthier, more educated and wealthier than any previous generation,” and with a propensity for work they represent a potential asset for nonprofits, according to the report.

Piktialis recommends that nonprofits strengthen their human resource capacity by looking internally at how to make HR management an important, sophisticated part of the organization.

Among the steps that the report suggests nonprofits take are:

  • View recruitment and retention of older workers as a strategic issue instead of an isolated HR issue and collect data about the environment in which your nonprofit operates, your client needs and preferences, most critical jobs and organizational strategy.
  • Analyze the data—headcount, turnover, age, skills and retirement eligibility—to project your workforce two years out.
  • Analyze the projected workforce gap and develop a plan for closing it, including looking at how to expand your recruitment of older workers.
  • Invest in executive development and recruitment.
  • Expand recruitment networks, such as partnering with professional organizations or AARP.

Nonprofits are behind other sectors in offering an array of flexible work arrangements, Piktialis said. Retirement-age boomers want work options—varied schedules, full- or part-time work, telecommuting—and the ability to shape the responsibilities of their positions.

CVS, for example, developed a “snowbird programthat lets employees transfer to a different pharmacy location on a seasonal basis to work at jobs such as greeting-card specialists, cosmetic consultants, photo supervisors and pharmacists.

It has helped “to manage the swell of business in warm climate stores during the winter months,” CVS says on its web site.

At Leesburg Regional Medical Center and The Villages Regional Hospital in Florida, telecommuting is an option for some jobs, such as transcription work.

The hospital and center individualize shifts to meet the needs of the business and its staff rather than try to find people to fit pre-determined shifts.

“You can’t have a set plan,” said Darlene Stone, vice president of HR there. “It’s a Rubik’s Cube” that requires twisting it to make it work.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News . She can be reached at

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