I’ve had a checkered past! I started out teaching English as a second language, and in the 1970s, I ran a refugee resettlement language program in Portland, OR. But in the early 1980s, I went to work in the corporate sector, which is how I got introduced to technology. In those days, there weren’t many trained programmers – and there were certainly no technology project managers. I got really interested in the field and went on to a series of jobs; then, a series of internet start-ups and shut downs – always a pot of gold over the next hill….
I had my own business for 7 years, and after that, I purchased and ran a business-coaching franchise for 10 years which, as I was 71, I decided not to renew for another decade.
I had volunteered with 501 Commons in the Executive Service Corps, which is a cadre of professionals who contribute services like consulting, strategic planning, meeting facilitation and coaching, so I was already involved when 501 Commons became an Encore Fellowships Network Program Operator.
Frankly, the mission of 501 Commons is pretty attractive. It’s essentially a capacity-building organization for nonprofits, to improve their ability to perform their mission. Staff provide “back office” services, like finance, HR and technology infrastructure management for nonprofits, and service corps members provide management consulting on a sliding scale. It’s a wonderful place to leverage one’s effect – we help non-profits to be more effective which makes them more effective in serving the homeless, the environment, other issues…that was very interesting to me.
When 501 Commons took over EFN operations, they decided to have an EFN Fellow themselves, and they had a project to develop a free organizational self-assessment for nonprofits. Given my project management background, I was approached – it seemed interesting, I knew some of the people involved, and it sounded like fun, so I got involved.
Moving from the private to the nonprofit sector was a little different. Having somebody else set expectations, for example: I’d had 10 to 15 years when I set the expectations and did the planning, and I didn’t have to consult with anyone else. Another difference in working with nonprofits was the need to deal with more process and more processing. I had been used to not only making my own decisions but deciding when I did make a decision, to go ahead and do something about it. And in the nonprofit world, there seems to be a need to be more intentionally inclusive, to make sure everybody’s on board.
We did get the assessment implemented and available online; the feedback from consultants and organizations has been pretty uniformly positive – they say that the assessment provides insights into areas where they might not have known how well they were doing and also what they can do to improve. So that’s a measure of success that I’m happy with. We’ve since licensed the tool to an organization in Tennessee, to use with their clients. This instrument has a strong network effect; the more people who use it, the better it will be. So, the more robust the peer groups, the more information we’ll have to share back.
Time went by, and I was about to end the year as a Fellow, and there was an opportunity to take a paid position leading a group supporting and developing Salesforce for Nonprofits, and that’s what I’m doing now, with a team of four people. We’re busy developing systems and more business to support the organization.
My team is multi-generational because I’m on it! The rest of them are in their 20s to upper 30s- 40s, and then of course, there’s me. We do fine, by and large, but in a staff meeting, I ask that computers be shut down and phones silenced… It’s so much more efficient when everybody is paying attention to the same thing at the same time.
I’ve been following Encore for years. The Encore Fellowship is a good program to help people make the transition to an encore career, whether in a nonprofit, creating a new business, or transitioning to a completely different field. It is a noble and worthy endeavor, in my opinion. I think that more and more of us are going to do more and more career switching; we may as well get used to it. I feel engaged, needed, and pretty useful, so I’m glad I’m staying on.