Retirement with a New Purpose
By Karen and Erica
Purpose is the word of the day. Companies need it. People want it. Non-profits have it. By purpose, we mean the reason you do something, the cause of your determination to achieve something. Having a worthy purpose, a goal, makes us feel good about ourselves.
For us, our jobs provided that purpose. We knew what we wanted to achieve, and we knew why we were doing what we were doing. We wanted to support ourselves, but that was only part of it. Doing something that was bigger than us and our families, affecting more people, in important ways, was an equal or greater part of what made us love what we did. We didn’t need a corporate program to make us feel like we had a purpose. We thought we were achieving something important every day just by doing our jobs well.
Upon retirement, what was going to be our new purpose? What did we want to achieve now? It was easy to say that we wanted to “give back” as part of our new portfolios. But we wanted to use our skills and experience too--not just write checks. How best to go about that? Not so easy, it turns out.
The non-profit world looks nothing like the for-profit world. Business skills are not always valued. Infrastructure is fragile, if it exists at all. Systems are not up-to-date. Accountability for behaviors and results is unfamiliar. Money is an issue all of the time, and agonizing choices must be made because donor dollars are insufficient.
At the same time, the needs of these organizations are limitless because the needs of those they serve are huge. You must have passion for the mission, or you will probably end up resenting the amount of time, effort and energy that will be demanded of you.
But we have also learned that even if people with our backgrounds do have a passion for the mission, it is difficult to get involved in the non-profit world in ways that use our skills and experience. It is difficult to participate outside of Board service, direct employment, or volunteering to help do what the non-profit actually does. For example, although neither of us knows much about teaching children, if that is what a non-profit does, we could probably volunteer to help it do that. And that's all to the good, of course. But we can do so much more.
We have found that the skills we do have--which relate much more to the success of the organization itself, like communications, long term planning, growth strategies--do not seem to be much in demand. That doesn't make any sense to us. We understand that non-profits do not want permanent entanglements with retired people about matters that relate to infrastructure rather than their core mission. We believe, however, that it is worth thinking about project-based approaches that could be used to deploy our skills, experience and judgment in the service of the important role that non-profits play in our country.
Being in the world of people who are devoted to caring about those less advantaged than they are enriches our lives and gives us a new purpose. It is a critical piece of our portfolios. We as a group have skills and experience that can help non-profits do more and become more sustainable. Let's start thinking and talking about new ways to make that happen. Comments welcome.