Program Taps Retired Execs To Help Nonprofits

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Encore Fellow Leslye Louie with Partners in School Innovation CEO Derek Mitchell i i

Leslye Louie (left), a former vice president at Hewlett-Packard, is now an Encore Fellow who joined with Partners in School Innovation, a group headed by Derek Mitchell (right). Rachel Myrow for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Rachel Myrow for NPR
Encore Fellow Leslye Louie with Partners in School Innovation CEO Derek Mitchell

Leslye Louie (left), a former vice president at Hewlett-Packard, is now an Encore Fellow who joined with Partners in School Innovation, a group headed by Derek Mitchell (right).

Rachel Myrow for NPR

A Bay Area pilot project known as Encore Fellowships is playing matchmaker, pairing retired corporate big leaguers with nonprofits that could use their expertise. The program is about to be expanded with funding from the Serve America Act, which promotes volunteerism.

Leslye Louie, who left Hewlett-Packard in 2005 after 20 years, is an Encore fellow. She says she wanted to do some good in the world but wasn't sure exactly what that meant. So she started by heading to craigslist, where she found opportunities to volunteer.

"I literally stuffed envelopes," Louie says.

Sure, Louie, a former VP of sales and marketing for a $15 billion business unit at HP, can stuff envelopes, but she can also offer something a lot of envelope stuffers can't.

"In between being a volunteer and sitting on the board, which is a little bit more removed, is a huge field of contribution," Louie says.

Enter Hewlett-Packard. The tech giant launched a program called the Silicon Valley Encore Initiative in collaboration with Civic Ventures, a San Francisco nonprofit focused on getting baby boomers nearing retirement to launch into "encore careers" — careers with social purpose. Encore Fellowships grew out of the partnership.

Typically people who want to join the nonprofit sector don't know how to approach it, says Yvonne Hunt, HP's vice president of social investment. Hunt says a lot of nonprofits could use workers with experience in human resources, IT and marketing.

Encore Fellowships "is just a nice, innovative model that allows those two worlds to merge," Hunt says.

Civic Ventures interviewed Louie to assess her skills and interests, then offered her a short list of nonprofits she could join. Soon, she and another HP alum headed off to Partners in School Innovation, a 30-employee, $3.5 million organization focused on ground-level reform at urban public schools.

The nonprofit's clients are school administrators and teachers.

"We really help them refine lesson plans — look at the data after they applied that new lesson and ask the question of how could it have gone better," CEO Derek Mitchell says.

The Encore fellows did something similar for Mitchell's group. Over the course of a year, they developed a performance management database to help determine the actual impact that they're having on schools, grades and students.

When it became clear the computers at Partners weren't up to the task, the Encore fellows got HP to donate new equipment.

Winning over the staff at the nonprofit was not so easy.

"In my first presentation, I think I used the 'P' word — profit — quite a few times," Louie says. "And it just [landed] so awfully. I hate to even remember that."

The awkwardness didn't last. Within four months, Louie was asked to serve as acting CEO during the leadership transition that brought in Derek Mitchell.

"I don't think I would have gotten here without craigslist, no," Louie says. "And I worked with some fabulous organizations as a volunteer. But no, I don't think you can just walk in and convince a CEO that you can lead the reorganization of the whole institution to be results-driven. They'd probably throw you out! Yet, that was the trust that was placed in us because of this program."

Encore fellows don't work free. Hewlett-Packard chips in half of the $25,000 per fellow annual price tag.

Mitchell says putting a price tag and a deadline on the partnership ensures that the fellow and the nonprofit are focused on making the most of each other.

Would he do this kind of thing again?

"In a heartbeat," Mitchell says.

The Serve America Act calls for 10 one-year Encore Fellowships in each state, with federal funding to help make it happen.

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