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AARP is the nation’s largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to empowering Americans 50 and older to choose how they live as they age. With nearly 38 million members and offices in every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, AARP works to strengthen communities and advocate for what matters most to families, with a focus on health security, financial stability and personal fulfillment.

The AARP Purpose Prize is the only national award in the United States that celebrates people 50 and older who are using their life experience to make a difference. Through the Purpose Prize, AARP celebrates the creativity, innovation and inspiration that life experience brings.

Each year, five winners receive $50,000 each to celebrate their achievements and broaden the scope of their work. Applications go through a formal, structured review process, including review by a prestigious jury of national leaders who have used their life experience for good. Based on the jury’s recommendations, the AARP CEO selects the winners.

Included within the AARP Purpose Prize is the Andrus Prize for Intergenerational Excellence. This award celebrates the legacy of AARP’s founder, Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus, who was an innovative educator and social change agent. It recognizes work that brings multiple generations together for a better community. Each year, one of the five AARP Purpose Prize awards will be designated for the Andrus Prize for Intergenerational Excellence.

While there can be only five AARP Purpose Prize winners, AARP recognizes the incredible volume of high-quality applicants doing amazing work. Therefore, AARP will invite an additional set of upward of 10 “fellows” each year to round out each year’s “class.” While fellows will not receive a cash prize, they will have access to a number of supports and technical assistance detailed more fully later in this document.

If you are 50 or older and are using your life experience to make your community or world a better place, we encourage you to learn more about the AARP Purpose Prize. This document answers important questions about how to nominate someone (or yourself), how to apply and what makes a strong applicant. 

 

Eligibility and Selection Criteria

All nominees, whether you nominate someone else or yourself, must
complete a short narrative application. Here are the review criteria we use.

  • Innovation: New approach to an old or emerging problem, or a creative way of building on an existing idea so it reaches more people. 
  • Creative or entrepreneurial spirit: Demonstrated commitment as a visionary or pioneer in your field of work.
  • Impact: Clearly documented impact. This could be through an external evaluation or internal efforts to track success.
  • Future focus: Work that shows promise for the future, that is, the next three to five years.
  • Experience-based: Clear connection between your life experience and the work you’re doing. This could be through the problem you’re solving, the skills you’ve applied to the problem, or the life experience or insights that led you to this work.
  • Integrity: Demonstration that you’re a highly ethical person who will make an excellent AARP Purpose Prize ambassador. You are a role model for others who are using their life experience to make a difference.

We are looking for everyday people who are doing extraordinary things with their life experience to make a better future for people of any age. You don’t have to have a big budget or a large team to be a strong candidate.

Because we believe that life experience can change the world, you must be at least 50 years old and have started your work at the age of 40 or later to qualify. 

Yes, people who work as a volunteer, receive a stipend or are paid a salary are all eligible. Some applicants get paid for their current work, while others donate their time. However, you must be able to demonstrate that your contributions have had a transformational impact.

No. People who work for nonprofits, for-profits, government agencies, a mix of these, or independently are eligible. As long as the work leads to positive change and has had a significant impact at the local, regional, national or global level, it is eligible.

No. We strongly encourage people who are using new ideas and approaches to change existing work. This can be in the nonprofit, public or private sectors. One important note: We’re not looking for people who have simply applied strong management skills to improve an organization’s performance.

Yes, but each person in the partnership must meet all the criteria and they must demonstrate how they’ve each contributed significantly to the work.

Yes, we do accept applications from people whose work primarily benefits people living outside U.S. borders, but you must be a U.S. citizen or legal resident. In this case, be sure to check the International box on the application.

We strongly consider applicants working in the following issue areas. 

  • Intergenerational work (opportunities for different generations to share their experience, knowledge and skills)
  • Rethinking the workplace (jobs, work environments, alternative approaches) 
  • Caregiving and caregiver resources (support for vulnerable populations and the people who care for them)
  • Healthy living (food and nutrition, brain health, physical fitness, etc.)
  • Financial health (financial stability, resilience, economic opportunity, etc.)
  • Hunger (food insecurity, waste, distribution, etc.)
  • Affordable housing (safe, well-managed, and affordable housing and services) 
  • Social connections (reducing isolation among vulnerable community members)
  • Civic engagement and community development (helping people be active participants in building and strengthening their communities)
  • Environmental issues (combating the challenges facing the planet)
  • Children and youth (helping kids and young people reach their full potential)
  • Arts and culture (using art and culture as tools to engage communities in positive change) 
  • Peace and security rights (establishing or preserving justice and equality by peaceful means) 

While AARP welcomes applicants working across many social impact areas, it will strongly consider candidates who work with older adults in areas of particular concern to AARP, specifically: intergenerational work; rethinking the workplace; caregiving and caregiver resources; healthy living; financial health; hunger; affordable housing; and social connections.

Yes, but in general we are looking for people who haven’t been widely recognized outside of their local communities or their field of work.

We are not looking for creative endeavors that do not improve people’s lives directly.  Also, we cannot evaluate the merit of certain types of innovations. Here are some examples:

  • We cannot evaluate scientific or technological inventions, although of course these can be important social innovations. If you are an inventor, you must describe how you have spread the use of an independently recognized invention and demonstrate the social impact of that invention. 
  • Similarly, if you are an academic researcher or a fine artist, you need to demonstrate that you have also been involved in using research or art to address a significant social problem and can demonstrate the social impact of your work.
  • You should not be involved in work that is exclusively religious or sectarian. However, people working in faith-based settings that have a broader social mission are eligible and encouraged to apply.

Because we believe that life experience can change the world, you must be at least 50 to apply and have started your work at the age of 40 or later to qualify. Important note: The AARP Purpose Prize is not a lifetime achievement award. It celebrates people who are currently using their life experience and creativity to make a difference on important social issues.

As noted above, applicants need to be at least 50 at the time of the application deadline and have started the work at age 40 or older. The work needs to be taking place at the time of the application.

The following categories of people are not eligible.

  • AARP staff AARP Board members
  • AARP consultants and vendors who have received remuneration during the 12-month period preceding the application deadline
  • Individuals who work at organizations that share a board member with AARP Members of the AARP Purpose Prize review panel or jurors
  • AARP volunteers
  • Family members (including domestic partners) and business associates of any individuals in the categories listed above
  • Current grantees
  • Elected officials

NOTE: Applicants selected for consideration as finalists must disclose any current or prior financial relationship or other support they have received from AARP, AARP Foundation, AARP Services Inc. or members of the AARP Purpose Prize panel of reviewers or jury. Other support includes, but is not limited to, technical assistance, promotion and advocacy. A current or prior relationship, financial or otherwise, does not immediately disqualify an applicant, but such factors will be considered in finalizing a diverse pool of winners. Similarly, AARP Purpose Prize reviewers and jurors as well as staff and board members of all AARP entities are required to disclose any current or prior relationship to any AARP Purpose Prize candidates. Volunteers and staff are not allowed to nominate themselves or family members. AARP reserves the right to disqualify any applicant at any time and for any reason should AARP determine that the application does not properly represent the organization/program’s mission, goals and policies.

An independent panel of jurors recommends a final slate of nominees. Jurors are distinguished national leaders selected for their experience and judgment. Based on the jury’s recommendations, the AARP CEO determines the final winners.

Awards and Winners’ Obligations

Each AARP Purpose Prize winner will receive $50,000. There are no restrictions on how the winners may use the money. Most past winners have used the money to further their work, but that is not a requirement. Our hope is that the funds are a down payment on future work for the greater social good.

Note: All taxes associated with the acceptance and/or uses of cash awarded are the sole responsibility of individual winners. Cash awarded will be reported by AARP on an IRS Form 1099. All AARP Purpose Prize winners of cash awards are advised to consult with their own tax professionals and/or legal counsel to ascertain the tax impact of receiving such cash awards, whether such applicable winners do or do not elect to divert their awards to an eligible nonprofit organization. 

In addition to the $50,000 cash prize, winners receive:

  • The opportunity for their stories and work to be promoted across a variety of media channels
  • Media and storytelling training
  • Membership in the 2018 AARP Purpose Prize class of awardees and fellows — a peer learning group focused on targeted technical assistance and support 
  • Willingness to share your personal story with others is critical. We’re looking for individuals who will make compelling ambassadors of the AARP Purpose Prize and who can be inspiring role models for others who are using their life experience to make a difference.
  • Participation at the onsite AARP Purpose Prize celebration event.
  • Engagement with at least five media outlets during the announcement, event and post-event phases (with opportunities for additional media engagements).
  • Participation in a midyear onsite get-together.
  • Participation in the one-day pre-2019 Purpose Prize end-of-year get-together to reflect on the AARP Purpose Prize experience, share feedback, make recommendations, etc.
  • Attendance at the 2019 Purpose Prize celebration event.
  • Optional participation in networking events.

While there can only be five AARP Purpose Prize winners each year, AARP recognizes that there are many strong applicants whose work contributes to improving local and global communities. Therefore, AARP will invite a select group of finalists to be fellows. The fellows will help round out each year’s class. While fellows will not receive a cash prize, they will be invited to:

  • Participate in media and storytelling training.
  • Participate in the one-day pre-2019 Purpose Prize end-of-year get-together to reflect on the AARP Purpose Prize experience, share feedback, make recommendations, etc.
  • Attend the 2019 AARP Purpose Prize celebration event.
  • Attend a midyear onsite get-together. 
  • Opt in for technical assistance and support webinars.
  • Engage in optional networking events.

NOTE: Fellows are eligible to reapply to the AARP Purpose Prize after a two-year grace period.

Background & More Information

The AARP Purpose Prize was created in 2006 by Encore.org (then called Civic Ventures) to recognize the power of older adults to tackle the world’s most pressing problems. In the past 10 years, nearly 10,000 Purpose Prize nominations have been received, almost 500 winners and fellows have been recognized, and over $5 million in prizes have been awarded. 

In 2016, the prize came to AARP. Under the leadership of CEO Jo Ann Jenkins, AARP is committed to giving the AARP Purpose Prize an even bigger stage to tell the story of remarkable people using their life experiences and creativity and innovation to have a lasting social impact.