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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Aging boomers expected to shake up philanthropy

Baby boomers have much to offer the nonprofit sector, but they also expect much in return.

The huge population that is beginning to reach retirement age has the potential over the next couple of decades to shake up who leads, works for, volunteers and gives to charitable organizations. The boomers also will alter how and what type of services nonprofits deliver.

The transition is rife with challenges, but also opportunities, say nonprofit leaders in the Sacramento region.

The nonprofit sector contributed $1.3 trillion to the U.S. economy in 2007, the most recent data available. The number of nonprofits and the number of volunteers keep growing nationwide.

Many organizations have studied and discussed at length the potential impact on the sector as boomers reach and settle into retirement. On some aspects of changes to nonprofits, they have good estimates on what to expect, while others remain hunches. The recession and the stock market decline have thrown a monkey wrench into the equation with the expectation that some boomers will delay retirement by several years and have less money to give.

“The question is how much,” said Ken Goldstein, an economist with The Conference Board, a nonprofit. “The bigger question is how long that will last.”

Even if the economy starts to recover in the next two years, it could take three to five years or longer for people to feel good financially and be capable of giving at their earlier levels.

Services demand will grow

Nonprofits know that boomers will demand more services, especially health and human services. Seniors will need transportation to doctors’ appointments and shopping, and in-home support for such things as bathing and preparing meals so they can live independently as long as possible, said Nancy Findeison, president and chief executive officer of the Community Services Planning Council in Sacramento.

But just looking at the age of the population isn’t enough to determine what services will be needed in the community, at least right away.

“I think we’re a lot healthier,” said Donna Yee, chief executive officer of the Asian Community Center in Sacramento.

Two decades ago, the average age of her nursing home residents was the late 70s. Now, most people in the nonprofit’s skilled-nursing home are in their late 80s, she said.

People who have received health care throughout their lives and who didn’t wear their bodies out early as laborers, Yee noted, will be able to remain independent at home longer before moving into nursing homes.

Older people without enough health insurance to cover their costs, and who, as a result, take half their prescribed medicine, won’t fare as well, Yee said.

The region’s nonprofit community will need to ramp up and think more creatively and collaboratively to meet increased demand in coming years. They’ll need to develop new programs and form alliances, Findeison said.

Nonprofits will need to adjust to providing more services to seniors at their homes. Perhaps meal programs and counseling programs will work together to deliver support services, she said.

The increase in demand for services from people with age-related blindness is just starting, said Heather Frank, executive director for Sacramento’s Society for the Blind. Over the next 20 years, she expects the number of clients with age-related blindness to double.

Giving of money and time

It’s unclear to what degree boomers will give their money to charitable groups. For some years to come, giving will remain constant or decrease because most people lost half the value of their retirement accounts when the stock market and economy tanked.

Before people’s portfolios shrunk, everyone was talking about the nation’s largest intergenerational transfer of wealth in history, with the amount in the trillions. The wealth the baby boomers would inherit from their parents was expected to increase the potential for philanthropic giving.

But the country has lost 5.1 million jobs since the recession began, leaving those people with less or nothing to give. The sour economy also means many executives who keep their jobs will do without big pay increases or bonuses. Without these normally generous donors, foundations and charities will take a second hit, economist Goldstein said.

Because retirement holdings have been cut in half, boomers’ giving to the Society for the Blind will remain constant or could even decline over the next few years, Frank said. In another couple decades, she anticipates boomers, who are savvy about arranging gifts after their death, will again contribute large amounts.

Must make a difference

Studies show that boomers want to volunteer with nonprofits and the volunteer ranks are expected to grow, but they don’t want to file papers or answer phones or do other tasks they see as busy work. They want meaningful, challenging and interesting volunteer work where they can make a difference.

Retired, healthy boomer volunteers also don’t want to be tied down by an ongoing commitment, Findeison said. Those with money often want short-term projects so they can travel.

She expects boomers will become more active with civic or faith-based groups where they can take a leadership role in, or feel like they have a more direct impact on, a certain project, such as adopting a school.

“They’re ready to get something done,” she said.

In response, nonprofits need to change the way they manage volunteer programs to better engage boomers and ensure the volunteers feel they’re making a difference.

Many boomers might be ready to leave the corporate or government world in their early 60s, but they still want to contribute in a meaningful way — and with a paycheck.

The shrinking number of nonprofit executive directors is a major worry. Many executive directors are over age 50 and plan to leave within a few years. Their organizations are trying to plan for succession and determine if the younger generation might want those jobs.

The local chapter of American Leadership Forum, for one, started planning at least three years ago for the retirement last month of Doni Blumenstock, 65, who had served as the nonprofit’s executive director since 1997. She knew that her Mountain Valley Chapter needed to get procedures and policies in place before the institutional knowledge disappeared.

Over the next few years, many nonprofits might find other boomers taking on leadership roles at charitable groups.

“Significant portions of baby boomers in their 50s and pre-boomers in their 60s want jobs that not only are personally satisfying, but also help others and improve the quality of life in their communities,” according to The Conference Board report “Boomers Are Ready for Nonprofits, But Are Nonprofits Ready for Them?”

Some boomers will want to work for — but not lead — nonprofits after retiring from careers in the private sector. They have sophisticated skills to offer, but they’ll want to share that expertise on their terms — whether on a part-time basis or for specific projects.

Regional nonprofits must respond by allowing boomers to work the way they want to, perhaps through job sharing or other part-time arrangements,
said Chet Hewitt, president and CEO of Sierra Health Foundation in Sacramento.


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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