What does it take these days to make a difference in your community? An impressive résumé and bankroll help. Bill Gates, 58, founder of technology colossus Microsoft, now heads up the $40 billion Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Former President Bill Clinton, 68, established the $250 million Clinton Foundation.
Yet you don't need instant name recognition or a big checkbook to take up the challenge. In fact, the number of registered nonprofits grew 21.5 percent from 2001 to 2011, according to the Urban Institute; another recent study estimates that 9 million people between ages 44 and 70 currently work for social-purpose organizations after retirement or as second careers. "The growth in people over 50 starting nonprofits and other social-impact organizations is fueled by the intersection of two powerful trends: later-life entrepreneurship, and second acts for the greater good," says Marc Freedman, founder and CEO of Encore.org. All that's really needed: empathy, energy, passion and persistence — traits shared by the four founders of nonprofits profiled here.
Claire Bloom, 67
Founder and executive director,
End 68 Hours of Hunger
When Claire Bloom attended her monthly book club meeting in October 2010, she expected a spirited conversation about the latest novel. Instead, the retired naval officer wound up volunteering for a new life's mission. A teacher in her group mentioned that some students battle hunger from the time they eat a free lunch at school on Fridays until they return on Mondays for breakfast — 68 long hours. Bloom says she vowed to herself, "I can't let this happen."
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She soon launched End 68 Hours of Hunger, donating $10,000 from savings as seed money. At first she fed 19 children in one New Hampshire town. Now her nonprofit provides meals of nonperishable packaged foods for delivery to more than 1,000 kids every weekend in California, Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. "It's a totally anonymous program," says Bloom. "So our volunteers don't have any idea who the children are." The schools choose the recipients.
She runs a tight ship; Bloom takes no salary and insists that her approximately 600 volunteer colleagues do the same. "It is incredibly appealing to [donors] to be able to know that 100 percent of the money they donate to us buys food for kids — that not one penny of it goes to line anybody's pockets," she says.
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In addition to corporate donations, Bloom seeks institutional grants, which allow the organization to give local chapters shelving and the bins they need to get started. She largely credits her military training for her nonprofit's success. Bloom knew how to stand in front of a group of people she didn't know and deliver briefings — a critical skill for social entrepreneurs who frequently ask strangers for their time or money.
She describes herself as a micromanager, so "how I manage things had to change." Says Bloom, "The bottom line is, that's not hard, there's one simple job: Feed the children."
Im Ja Park Choi, 66
Founder and executive director,
Penn Asian Senior Services
"Send her to a nursing home." That was the advice many people, including doctors, gave Im Ja Park Choi in 2003, when a hospital discharged her 86-year-old mother after surgeries for stomach cancer. At the time, Choi's mother weighed 62 pounds and needed a colostomy bag. But in Korean culture, institutionalizing an ailing parent is unthinkable. "You take care of your mom and dad," says Choi. "That's in my blood."