Dave Dardis worked for over 39 years at IBM in management roles in sales, marketing and business development. He retired about six years ago, spending his newfound free time volunteering at nonprofits in Silicon Valley. He found the volunteering work deeply unsatisfying.
“They were along the lines of ‘Can you help us for several weeks and then we’ll wave goodbye,’” Dardis, 68, recalls.
But in a parking lot conversation following a nonprofit event, Dardis learned about The Encore Fellowships Network. He was intrigued.
What The Encore Fellowship Is
The program was created by Encore.org (whose slogan is “purpose and passion in your second act”) to serve as a matchmaker for private-sector professionals and nonprofits. It typically lasts six to 12 months and comes with a stipend.
In 2011, Dardis applied to become an Encore Fellow and, after being selected, was asked to choose among three nonprofits. He picked the Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley (HFSV), which spearheads local educational initiatives. Its draw? Dardis’s parents were both teachers; so is his wife.
The part-time Fellowship paid $25 an hour for 1,000 hours. When it ended, Dardis was hired as HFSV’s chief operating officer where he works three days a week on fundraising in his “unretirement.”
Says Dardis: “I am doing things that leverage my skills from IBM. I am having fun. This is a gas.”
The 20-hours-a-week schedule gives Dardis time to run errands, cook dinner for his wife and spend relaxing weekends watching his grandchildren play soccer. Financially, he’s doing fine with a pension from IBM, Social Security and two checks a month from HFSV (earning close to what he made during the Encore Fellowship).
From Creating Ads to Helping Ex-Cons
Beth Kempner worked in New York City for Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising for 25 years, where she became a Senior Vice President. When Kempner’s kids were in high school, she decided it was time to “retire” and spend more time with them before they left for college.
In her “retirement,” she did a project for the Taproot Foundation, a pro bono consulting firm, and got a certificate in the Funder and Grantmaking Program at New York University. Then, while browsing the Internet, Kempner chanced upon the Encore Fellowship program. She applied and became an Encore Fellow in 2011, working in public affairs for the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), a nonprofit that helps ex-cons get and stay in jobs.
Like Dardis, Kempner (now 55) stayed on when the Fellowship finished. She was hired as CEO’s part-time Director of Public Affairs, leveraging her advertising and marketing skills. “It’s a wonderful job,” she says.
Kempner has been with the organization for three years, working three three days a week. She’s passionate about the work, but loves the free time that has let her rediscover tennis, revive friendships and take classes.
The Encore Career Gap
Many others in their 50s and 60s are inspired by the fledgling encore career movement where Durdis and Kempner are foot soldiers. But some are unsure about which encore career to pursue, how to find a good opportunity and whether the finances will work out.
That may explain why a new Encore.org survey of Americans age 50 to 70 found that although 55 percent believe it’s important to take their skills to help others, only 28 percent said they are ready to make the leap into an encore job.
Structure and Support
It’s also why a structured, focused program like the Encore Fellowship Network can ease the transition. There are now Encore Fellowships in 15 cities in the U.S. and England, with more in the works. Each is run slightly differently, with its own application season and process.
“Not only did they [the Fellowship management] help direct me to this new ‘life’ but the support system in place in fantastic,” says Kempner. “Over the year of the Fellowship, we had speakers from every part of the nonprofit world come to speak to us and share their transitions and experiences.”
Adds Dardis: “The Fellowship isn’t a once and done kind of experience.”
Dardis and Kempner said the Encore Fellowship’s application process forced them to think about their skill sets and what they wanted out of their next chapter. Although Kempner said she had doubts whether she was qualified to assist a nonprofit for ex-cons, a meeting with the group’s former head convinced her to take a risk.
Both have found their “unretirement” work extremely fulfilling. That’s often true for people who transition from full-time professional jobs into encore careers.
Nicole Maestros, a Rand Corporation economist and author of the study, “Back to Work: Expectations and Realizations of Work After Retirement” found that 26 percent of full-time employees who retired reversed their decision and returned to work (either full time or part time) within a few years. They did so mostly because they found retirement less satisfying than they had expected, Maestros says.
The Evolving Fellowships
The Encore Fellowship model is evolving in interesting ways. For the past two years, Intel has been offering its U.S. employees who are eligible to retire the opportunity to apply for Intel Encore Career Fellowships. So far, more than 200 Intel employees have become Fellows.
More nonprofits are learning about the Encore Fellowships and snagging its talented men and women. But too few people who could become Fellows know about the program. Dardis learned about it through a chance parking lot conversation and Kempner by browsing the Internet.
The Encore Fellowship is also only one piece of a much bigger unretirement and encore career infrastructure puzzle. There are many more on-ramps to be built. Still, the Fellowship is a practical path for some boomers to thoughtfully transition from one career to another.
Check it out.
Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for American Public Media's Marketplace and author of the forthcoming Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and The Good Life. He writes about Unretirement twice a month, focusing on the personal finance and entrepreneurial start-up implications and the lessons people learn as they search for meaning and income. Tell him about your experiences so he can address your questions in future columns. Send your queries to him email@example.com. His twitter address is @cfarrellecon.