Engaging Future NPO Leaders

The word retirement might conjure up scenes of beach vacations or sleeping in late. But for many retirees, those golden years after finishing a long career get rather busy, and retirement isn't just about relaxation. Instead, many devote their increased leisure time to volunteer work and helping out nonprofit organizations in their communities; whether churches, museums, or schools.

One Silicon Valley-based nonprofit — Civic Ventures — was brought about to help professionals nearing retirement age in their 50s and 60s transition from the private sector to working at nonprofits. Each year, the organization provides Encore Fellowships that offer stipends to highly skilled professionals that allow them to lend their skills and expertise to local nonprofits.

After a successful pilot program in Silicon Valley in 2009, Encore Fellowships are now offered in seven states, and the program continues to grow. A recent article in Financial Times about retirees looking to give back to their communities highlighted the Encore Fellowships, and Civic Venture's growing list of corporate sponsors and foundation donor continues to help expand their reach. Earlier this year, the organization announced they were going to expand overseas too, offering an international fellowship in London.

One early funder of the program was the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, providing $750,000 to expand the Encore Fellowships in Silicon Valley and allow Ventures to increase their reach nationwide. Last year, Packard provided two grants to Civic Ventures, one for $1.25 million and one for $250,000, both for the organization's work in providing support and training for nonprofit careers. (See David and Lucile Packard Foundation: Bay Area Grants).

"[The Packard Foundation] is only successful if we have good, strong, effective nonprofit organizations to work with, and so, for our entire history we've been interested in the leadership of nonprofits," said Carol Larson, Packard’s president, in a 2009 interview. "We’re funding the Encore Fellowships, because it's opening up a whole new set of leaders to contribute to nonprofit organizations, and thereby contribute to conservation, the environment and children."

The Encore Fellowships are the most widely accessible in California, with four different fellowship programs offered here. Along with the original Silicon Valley fellowship, Encore has expanded to include public health fellowships in the Bay Area, San Diego, and the Central Valley, leadership fellowships in Sacramento and the Sierra Region, and fellowships within health organization Aspiranet.

In the Silicon Valley program, fellows are placed in specific roles in nonprofits, and they bring their skills and expertise to help them build capacity. For six months to a year, fellows work at these organizations and receive a $25,000 stipend, offering 1,000 hours of work. There's also a competitive selection process, which aims to match a fellow's skills with a nonprofit's needs.

In the first five years in Silicon Valley, 52 professionals have completed fellowships, and they've helped out a variety of local nonprofits. Last year, fellows worked at Second Harvest Food Bank, Future of Fish, and Citizen Schools, among others.

"I think you get to a point in your life where you have to feel like what you’re doing matters," said Gina, a 2009 fellow. "But how to do it, I think, is hard."