Leadership Austin placing retired execs back into nonprofits

Leadership Austin Fellows

A new project of Leadership Austin enlists retired executives to work part-time in the nonprofit sector. While Leadership Austin is better known for training professionals who are still in the workforce, CEO Christopher Kennedy says they saw an opportunity in the region’s growing senior population that they couldn’t pass up.

Census numbers show that the Austin region has the nation’s fastest growing population of people between the ages of 55 to 64, and the third fastest growing community of people over 65. “These are resources in our community that are underutilized,” said Kennedy. The idea for recruiting experienced retirees, called Fellows, is to have them take on projects that nonprofits don’t always have the resources to execute, projects like community outreach, professional training, and technology development. “We’re not looking for people to stand at the printer,” said Kennedy. “We’re looking for people who can build sustainability for a nonprofit, and that requires a different caliber of candidate.”

In its pilot phase this year, six fellows were placed on six different nonprofit projects. A recent assessment of the project midway was very encouraging, says Debbie Johnson, director of the fellows program, and will likely lead the Leadership Austin board to vote to expand the fellows project to about 10 fellows in 2019.

“One of the questions on the survey to both the fellows and the nonprofits was whether they would recommend the program to others,” said Johnson, “and every single person said yes. That’s one thing that told us this program really has legs.”

Nonprofits like The New Philanthropists, Meals on Wheels Central Texas, Mission Capital, and Hospice Austin have each hosted a Fellow this year. For Hospice Austin, Fellow Pat Niekamp is creating a leadership development program to help the nonprofit thrive in an increasingly competitive health market. Niekamp says participating in the project has been a thrill. “You don’t realize how much you know until you sit in front of a group of millennials or Gen-Xers who are so thirsty to learn,” said Niekamp, retired media executive.

Each Fellow serves the nonprofit for one year, working about two days a week. The Fellow may work in the office or independently, and they’re paid a stipend by the nonprofit, supplemented by funding from St. David’s Foundation and the Anderson Foundation. “The whole model revolves around the notion that a lot of retired business people want to give back,” said Johnson, “so it’s really important to deploy them into the nonprofit community because that helps the fellows feel like they’re meaningfully engaged.”

For Niekamp, the biggest change has been in the pace of work. Transitioning out of being the CEO of a business she founded into the nonprofit sector has been interesting, she says. “Nonprofits more more slowly than the business world and they tend to make decisions by consensus,” said Niekamp, “so you adjust a little bit and find that common ground.”

Leadership Austin will host two information sessions for anyone interested in being a Fellow, on October 25 and October 26. For more information, visit LeadershipAustin.org.

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