Saving the World as a Second Career
More and more 50-plus workers are reimagining themselves in the nonprofit world
En español | 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."
See also: Job tips for 50+ workers
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.
See also: Nonprofit helps veterans learn farming
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."
A former banker, Choi found caregiving for her mother 24/7 draining. "I could not leave her, not even an hour alone," she recalls. Her mother confided to Choi that she would rather die than burden her daughter. Choi unsuccessfully searched for a home health care aide who could cook familiar foods and communicate in Korean with her mother, who spoke little English. But no agencies in her area could train Korean-speaking home health aides, something Choi resolved to change.
Choi, who previously ran a nonprofit advocacy organization for Asian women, says she had become pretty good at grant writing. She raised $70,000 from a foundation and county and state governments to start her nonprofit. Abington Memorial Hospital near Philadelphia kicked in a rent-free 500-square-foot office.
See also: New technology could allow you or your parents to age at home
Demand exceeded expectations. Choi's agency expanded, hiring Mandarin and Cantonese speakers. Currently, the Penn Asian Senior Services organization — which recently bought a 30,000-square-foot facility — employs more than 450 aides who speak 11 languages. Choi earns a salary of just over $100,000.
Her service saves society money because it's more economical to care for an elderly patient at home than in an institution, she says. And the emotional benefits for patients, who receive steady companionship while they convalesce, are incalculable. When Choi finally found a Korean-speaking aide, her mother's health and mood rebounded. "She felt lifted," remembers Choi. "She lived eight years after her surgery, which was really amazing."
Victor Schachter, 71
Founder, Foundation for Sustainable Rule of Law Initiatives
Mountain View, Calif.
In Victor Schachter's long career as a litigator and volunteer mediator, his most memorable lesson was this: Do not negotiate with monkeys. While visiting India in 2005 to establish a mediation center in a run-down courthouse in a nation with a backlog of 32 million cases, he found that small, aggressive monkeys infested the building, occasionally biting children and stealing food from people. Devising a solution they don't teach you in law school, he and local counterparts recruited a dozen larger langur monkeys to chase away the smaller ones.
After ending the monkey business, they renovated the building, creating an "oasis" of a mediation center.
Schachter, a partner at a Silicon Valley law firm, donated $45,000 to jump-start his nonprofit, Foundation for Sustainable Rule of Law Initiatives, which promotes alternative dispute resolution in developing nations. He's retained a development consultant to apply for grants to continue growing. "We've got so many requests to do this work now, we need to scale it up financially," he says.
Resource for entrepreneurs: Check out the Small Business Resource Center
Although he serves in regions where the rule of law is more topsy-turvy than in the U.S., "unfair treatment and discrimination for arbitrary, capricious reasons are common to every single country in the world," he says.
Roger Kemp, 69
The Ali Kemp Educational Foundation
Ali Kemp accomplished a lot in her 19 years: honors student in high school and college, co-president of her local chapter of Future Business Leaders of America, and recipient of a government trip for students to France, China and Australia.
"She had all kinds of opportunities before her," says her father, Roger Kemp, who, after his daughter's murder, created the Ali Kemp Educational Foundation (TAKE) as a self-defense program for young women.
Although Kemp has a full-time job, he devotes another 40 hours each week to the foundation, which began in 2002. He earns about $45,000 from the nonprofit.
His group provides women with reality-based, hands-on self-defense lessons — tactics Kemp believes could have given Ali a fighting chance to escape the attacker who strangled her. (The murderer was eventually caught and is serving a 50-year prison sentence.)
More than 55,000 women nationwide have taken the two-hour personal-security primer. The foundation, which often partners with college fraternities and sororities to set up the classes, raises money through an annual golf tournament and "little donations."
"Starting a self-defense program, I think any dad would do that," Kemp says. "I just don't want this to happen to [another] little girl."
Dreaming of more? Check out the endless possibilities at Life Reimagined.
You May Also Like
- Become a mystery shopper
- Diving into a dream job
- 11 things you should never do again after 50
- Help bring relief to struggling seniors; find volunteer opportunities near you
Join AARP Now — Receive access to exclusive info, benefits and discounts