How can nonprofits tap a new and growing source of talent — people over 50 — to improve the lives of the children and youth they serve?

To help answer the question, nine youth-serving nonprofits — all members of the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities — hired a diverse group of professionals over 50. They were dubbed Second Acts Fellows and tasked with mobilizing others over 50 in paid and volunteer roles. 

That was nearly three years ago. Today, a new report released by Encore.org’s Gen2Gen campaign concludes that the strategy of employing fellows over 50 to help nonprofits tap encore talent “holds enormous potential” to change lives, organizations, even attitudes about older workers themselves.

“The results from the Second Acts initiative,” the report states, “show clearly that Second Acts Fellows can play a critical role for organizations seeking to leverage 50+ talent.”

The 20-page report tells the story of the pilot conducted by the Alliance with support from Encore.org, reports on its impact, offers lessons learned, explains the factors that hindered success in some communities, and provides recommendations to help other organizations interested in the fellow model.

An independent evaluation firm, Joining Vision and Action, found that the pilot produced benefits for all groups touched by it. Here are a few:

  • The nonprofits reported recruiting nearly four times as many older volunteers as they had before the Second Acts initiative started, creating stronger ties between the nonprofits and their communities. 
  • Interactions with the older volunteers led to positive changes in the lives of children and youth. Measures of youth confidence, ability in school, and relationships with friends and family all increased.
  • The experience was also a good one for the older adults. Over 90 percent of the Second Acts Fellows and volunteers surveyed reported valuing their roles and feeling a sense of purpose in their lives.
  • Over time, large numbers of nonprofit staff members changed their views about the value of encore talent in helping their organizations meet their mission, better serve their clients and community, and achieve sustainability.

The report tells two stories with powerful results in more depth. Ascentria Care Alliance in Worcester, Massachusetts — one of the largest community service organizations in New England — recruited a “uniquely qualified group of women with dedication and deep roots in the community” to mentor teen moms in residential programs. 

And Lad Lake, a youth service organization in Dousman, Wisconsin that calls itself “the emergency room of the child welfare system,” created a Volunteer Grandparents program to support victims of human trafficking and young people aging out of foster care.

Both nonprofits are now convinced of the positive impact older volunteers can have on young people.

“Going into the initiative, we knew the aim. We could wrap our arms around it,” says Emily Merritt, who became the Alliance’s director of intergenerational initiative. “But it really turned out to be so much bigger. This is really about organizational change, organizational cultures and mindsets. We’ve seen how much impact just one Fellow can have on these broader organizational dynamics, and it’s incredibly promising.”

Susan Dreyfus, president and CEO of the Alliance called the results “a big win. The success of the Second Acts initiative and the fellowship model has demonstrated the value of age-inclusive, intergenerational organizations.”

The fellow model adapted by the Alliance was based on Encore Fellowships, a program Encore.org launched 10 years ago to match skilled, seasoned professionals with social sector organizations in high-impact, paid assignments.

To date, thousands of Encore Fellows have provided over 2 million hours of service at a fraction of their market value, contributing the equivalent of more than $200 million to nonprofit organizations in more than 50 metropolitan areas. 

“Second Acts Fellows: A new way to help youth-serving nonprofits leverage encore talent” was written by Sandy M. Fernandez, an award-winning journalist, and Corita Brown, Ph.D, director of innovation and learning for Encore.org. 

The Second Acts initiative was funded by the Deerbrook Charitable Trust, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and Bader Philanthropies.

 

Published: July 16, 2019