Second Acts: Older Workers Find New Careers with Nonprofits

By Young Soo Yang

ReServist Cristina Pastor (left) at her place of work at Greater Newark LISC.

About a year ago, Cristina Pastor left her job of six years as a managing editor of the Filippine News to seek new opportunities. But her job search turned out much longer than she anticipated.

“I quit at the time when the economy was really bad, still is,” said Pastor.

So she signed up with ReServe, a placement agency, a couple of months ago. The agency was able to match Pastor with a nonprofit in Newark as a communications assistant.

ReServe is not a typical employment agency. In fact, it rejects that label entirely. It specializes in matching workers 55 and older with nonprofit organizations. It has offices in Boston, Baltimore, Milwaukee, Miami and, since last December, Newark.

“We don’t really use the language of employment so much as we use the language of service,” said Kevin Donahue, Director of ReServe Newark. “Our ReService aren’t employees, they are doing community service. It’s a service opportunity with a stipend more than a job.”

The “stipend,” as Donahue calls it, is more of a recognition rather than fair market value for the professional services rendered by ReService volunteers. ReServe charges a nonprofit a flat rate of $15 per hour, with five going to ReServe to help cover operational costs and ten to the ReService volunteer.

“And it’s $10 whether you’re answering the phones or whether you’re the interim CFO,” explained Donahue. “All of our positions, all of our opportunities pay at that $10 an hour stipend. You’re not going to get rich ReServing but it’s going to cover your gas, it’s going to cover your lunch, it’s going to cover your parking. You’re not going to pay to do this volunteering. And at the end of week, you’ll have enough for a pizza.”

Founded in 2005, ReServe reflects a changing labor force in which aging baby boomers make up a large segment of the population. With longer life expectancies, many are not ready for retirement, financially and psychologically.

According to Donahue, traditional notions of retirement don’t make as much sense as they used to. The average worker at 65, he says is looking at another 10 to 20 years of healthy, productive time. “So they’re wondering what’s next and that’s really the question that drives ReServe is what’s next, what now at age 65?”

ReServe targets highly-skilled volunteers and matches them with organizations that Donahue says are on the front lines in addressing society’s most oppressive problems.

“For instance, I have a CPA, a retired CPA. He wants to get out of the house to do something productive and give back. I don’t know what a CPA costs per hour — $50 … $100 … who knows. But he’s willing to do what he does — bookkeeping, accounting, auditing — at a nonprofit for [the cost to the nonprofit of] $15 an hour. So our proposition to nonprofits is that we are able to deliver highly skilled, talented, experienced individuals for a very nonprofit, friendly rate.”

According to Pastor, the true value of mature workers extends beyond their marketable skills and is not entirely measurable.

“They really know what they want out of life and they really give much of their time and dedication and professionalism to where they work,” said Pastor.

It’s a sentiment that Donahue agrees with wholeheartedly. “I don’t want to sound cheesy but they bring some wisdom to the table. They’ve been there, done that, they’ve seen things come and go and they have a sense for what matters. So that perspective is valuable to our nonprofits.”

The first step to becoming a ReService volunteer is to register online for an actual first impression session where potential volunteers learn about ReServe and share their own experiences and goals with others.

“They get to share with me and the other folks there some of their background, some of their experience but also where they would like to see themselves,” explained Donahue. The meeting, he says, is to ultimately determine answers to questions like: “what are they passionate about, what motivates them, where would they really thrive, what kind of opportunity to give back would really give them that opportunity to thrive?”

For Donahue, his role at ReServe is a perfect match for his own goals and education. He recently graduated from Seton Hall Law School where he focused on public interest law.

“I had studied nonprofit law and was interested in taking on an active leadership role in the nonprofit sector and so here I am fortunate enough to be working with a great organization like ReServe.”