Proving the Power of Encore Talent

Encore talent makes sense, right?

What social purpose organization interested in making a difference wouldn’t want to tap experienced talent to build their capacity, improve the communities they serve and advance their social mission?

Unfortunately, plenty — at the moment.

The pick-up on the idea of engaging experienced older adults, whether in pro bono or paid roles, still lags behind the need for human talent and the growing desire of experienced adults to put their life experience and skills to use, creating better communities and contributing to a better future.

Why is this misalignment, between demand and supply, the case? Persistent ageism, for one thing. But in an evidence-based, metrics-attuned world, there’s a dearth of hard data about the distinctive contributions of encore talent — which prevents a deeper understanding of the personal and organizational transformations needed to deliver that impact.

So, Encore.org is especially pleased to be able to add to the literature on encore talent impact with two new reports, the results of research we undertook in 2015.

The first, a report titled “The Encore Talent Impact Project: A Study of Encore Talent at Work,” analyzes data from six organizations, each with different missions, service models and distinct geographic locations, on the impact of people in encore roles on their organizations.

Here’s what we found:

Encore engagements have a big effect on communities.

  • Four in five people in encore roles (80 percent) affected five different measures of community impact, contributing direct labor that the community might not otherwise be able to access and increasing community resilience.
  • Almost as many (79 percent) contributed direct labor in service of the organization’s missions.

People in encore roles contribute in ways that are usually associated with professional staff.

When we think about encore engagements, we commonly assume they involve direct service. But the 100+ supervisors we surveyed reported some surprising areas of impact on nearly 1,700 people, most of whom were volunteers.

  • Almost three-quarters (73 percent) contributed new ideas, approaches or tools to their organizations.
  • Two-thirds provided work that helped (or had the potential to help) scale up the organization’s work.
  • More than half (52 percent) helped by implementing approaches to increase visibility to funders.
  • Just under half (49 percent) helped cut operating costs or improve service delivery.
  • Nearly four in ten (39 percent) were involved in launching new programs in the service area.

Characteristics associated with experience and maturity contribute to impact:

  • Two frequently observed characteristics (86 percent of participants) included having knowledge or background that was helpful to the work and integrating well with the team.
  • Other frequently observed characteristics:
    • Successfully explaining, mentoring, coaching and building relationships with others (81 percent).
    • Working well with complexity and the dynamics of the role (83 percent).
    • Being able to see others’ perspectives (80 percent).

The second study, “Doing Good by Doing Well: Encore Fellows Build Nonprofits’ Capacity to Serve Children And Youth,” was written by Jacqueline James, Ph.D., co-director of the Center on Aging and Work at Boston College. The report is a qualitative look – through case studies — at two issues: how encore talent can be well-integrated in nonprofits in order to deliver maximum impact, and how encore service provides a highly fulfilling platform for encore adults transitioning into social impact work.

“Doing Good by Doing Well” examines the experience of three organizations that address the educational and social needs of young people in very different ways in different parts of the country. All three engaged Encore Fellows to build organizational capacity and, thus, offer a deep look at that particular form of engagement.

The common threads in the case studies, taken together, provide a road map to successfully integrating encore talent in an organization in order to maximize impact.

We look forward to hearing from you about your experience engaging encore talent, and for the researchers among you, what additional research you’d like to see to deepen the evidence base that encore talent works.