Transitioning to the do-gooder
Working in the community makes demands on skills, requires a willingness to adjust
Margaret Harrison spent almost two decades at
“You can’t retire at 60 and just stop,’’ said Harrison, a longtime Dorchester resident. “I need something to keep my brain active.’’
Harrison’s transition from finance to affordable housing provides an example of how people in their 60s can switch from doing well in their careers to doing good in the community. Making the transition, however, demands more than just a desire to help people, career counselors said. It requires building connections, expanding networks, and making the most of skills. It also requires a hard look at finances and a willingness to adjust lifestyles.
Harrison, for example, gave up most of her pay to work as senior consultant for the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance, where she earns $20,000 a year.
She’s had to sell her condominium in Dorchester, commute to Boston from her home in Martha’s Vineyard, and spend three nights a week in the guest room of a friend. But it’s all been worth it.
“We all do work that’s kind of mundane,’’ she said. “But then there’s the job that you do for more than the paycheck, that’s something that really interests you, that really sparks your fancy. You have to pay attention to that.’’
Harrison, now 62, worked nearly four decades in financial services, including more than 20 years at
“I just felt I’d put in a number of years there,’’ she said. “It was time to go.’’
Harrison then pursued what she viewed as more meaningful work. Using connections from her years in banking, Harrison researched opportunities at local nonprofits. One was the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance, which, since its inception in 1985, has educated more than 16,000 low- to moderate-income individuals on buying and owning a home.
As a banker, Harrison worked periodically with the Dorchester nonprofit. She got to know alliance officials, and approached them as she prepared to retire.
Nonprofits are often interested in skills and experience of older workers, said Roni F. Noland, a Milton career counselor. Making the transition from profit-making firms to charitable organizations is easier with connections, which should be developed a few years ahead, she said. A good way is volunteer work.
“It’s often nice in your 60s,’’ Noland said, “when you’ve put your kids through school, and are financially secure enough, to move to something less lucrative, something that’s been a passion.’’
A visit with a financial planner is also in order, Noland said.
“Downsizing isn’t a bad thing,’’ she said. “You have to think, do I really need my house? Do I really need my toys? Or can I do without?’’
Harrison looked several years ahead, working out a compensation plan with the housing alliance that changed with her circumstances. In her first 18 months, while she received her BNY Mellon salary as part of the retirement package, she volunteered. After that, the organization began paying her $20,000 a year, and providing health insurance.
When she begins collecting Social Security in August, her salary will drop to about $14,000 a year to allow her to collect full benefits. Social Security reduces payments when annual earnings exceed $14,160.
Harrison works at the housing alliance three days a week, using her network and know-how to raise money and plan events. The most rewarding aspect, she said, is watching people buy homes, then become involved in the community.
“This just happened to be a good fit for me, because it sort of tied in with what I’ve been doing for years,’’ Harrison said. “Retirement is not all about, ‘Oh, we’ll just travel and play golf all the time.’ As good as that sounds when you’re 20, 30, and 40, you don’t want to just stop. I love what I do here.’’
Youve done well in your career, but now you want to do good. Here are tips on making a transition to lower paying, but rewarding careers.
Can I afford to give up my job for lower paying or volunteer work at nonprofits?
If you have no debt and have been vigilant about saving, you might. Visit a financial planner and review your assets, income, pension, and retirement plans. You may have to sell your home and move into a smaller place. Ask your children about their finances they may be expecting you to help pay for their first home or contribute to your grandchildrens college funds. Also get regular check-ups, eat well, and exercise. A serious illness can not only end your career, but wipe out your finances.
Where do I start?
Consider what you care about, and how you might make a difference. Are you concerned about the environment? Education? Poverty? Think about skills, experience, and knowledge you can offer to nonprofits, social service agencies, and advocacy groups, said Roni F. Noland, a Milton career counselor. Also consider how many hours a week youd like to work and how far youre willing to commute.
To whom should I talk?
Scour your network for connections in nonprofit groups, Noland said. Start with alumni groups, faith-based organizations, and community volunteer networks in your neighborhood. Look for an organization where youll have the opportunity to use yours skills and mentor younger employees.
What organizations are looking for older volunteers?
Noland suggested SOAR 55 (Service Opportunities After Reaching 55), a group that matches older workers with volunteer opportunities. Interested volunteers can call 617-244-1404, extension 227. Americorps, the domestic community service group, offers opportunities through the Senior Corps program. Call 1-800-424-8867 for more information.
Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this story used the wrong name for a group that matches older workers with volunteer opportunities. The organization is Service Opportunities After Reaching 55 (SOAR 55), and interested volunteers can call 617-244-1404, extension 227.