Retirees can consult pro bono and for pay

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Kate Petersen

Deborah Missal (left) and Michelle Birnbaum of the Pro Bono Consultant Program work with retired professionals to help match them with nonprofits that can use their expertise.
Photo courtesy of Pro Bono Consultant Program

When Community Ministries of Rockville began putting together a housing proposal for very low income families, it turned to the Montgomery County Volunteer Center’s Pro Bono Consultant Program for an experienced consultant.

With his 32 years of experience, Murray Blank, formerly of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in Philadelphia, was able to look at the proposal with a seasoned eye.

“I would raise issues I thought that the reviewer would want to have presented in the proposal,” Blank commented about the successful funding request.

With the funding obtained through this proposal, Community Ministries was able to recently open a home for several homeless women.

“It’s an incredible resource,” Arndt said. “Every nonprofit should be taking advantage of what the volunteer center has to offer.”

Putting experience to work

The Pro Bono Consultant Program leverages the extensive experience people in the retired community have accumulated by offering free professional help to non-profits and government entities.

“We find that many seniors, in particular, are looking for a chance to draw upon a lifetime of experience to help a nonprofit organization but don’t have any idea how to go about this. We work with each consultant to try to find the right opportunity,” said Deborah Missal, the organization’s program manager.

Another consultant helped interPLAYcompany Band, a band that works with adults with cognitive and/or physical disabilities, when they needed a way to evaluate their program.                                                                  

After posting their need on the Pro Bono Consultant Program’s website, interPLAY was put in touch with John Gaffney, a retiree of IBM and Lockheed Martin who worked in statistics and electrical engineering. “His background was ideal for this,” said Ken Silverstein, managing director of interPLAY.

Gaffney worked with Silverstein to create, implement and revise a survey that was filled out by guardians of band members. The final results showed an improvement of behavior of band members that correlated with their participation in the band. These results were included in a successful grant request made by interPLAYcompany Band.

“My previous grant writer really was pushing for this for years,” recounted Silverstein. “We needed to do this, and finally we found somebody in John who could do it for us the right way and the most professional way.”

It’s not just the organizations, however, that reap the benefits of a program such as the Pro Bono Consultant Program. “It grows your intellect and experience, and it’s fun,” said Gaffney. “[It’s] always nice to learn something new.”

For other seniors who are interested in becoming consultants, Gaffney noted that “[volunteers] feel like they’re making a difference in the world. Which they are.”

Many of the consultants apply for the program online at www.montgomeryserves.org and are then matched with a project based on the skills of the consultant and the needs of the organization. The program checks in during the projects to ensure that needs are being met.

“The Pro Bono volunteers we’ve gotten over the years have been fabulous,” Arndt said. “There is no way we could pay for all these quality services.”

“It was unbelievable,” said Silverstein. “It was so professional. It was way beyond what I had ever imagined could be developed.”

Sharing the wealth

But what if you aren’t a nonprofit and want the type of expertise someone with decades of experience possesses? Or if you’re an older adult who wants to be paid for sharing decades of experience?

Louis Solomon, managing partner of LPS Collaborative Group (LCG) has an answer. Several years ago, Solomon started LCG to take advantage of the invaluable experience of retirees.

With his own experience in program and financial management, business development and systems engineering, he realized that those who retired from these fields and others had an immense amount of collective knowledge and skills.

Solomon got back in touch with his associates and asked, do you want to “have something to amuse you instead of watching daytime TV?” The overwhelming response was “yes.”

Gathering together an extensive network of consultants — some he found, some who found him — Solomon’s firm consists of retired individuals with experience in a wide range of fields.

Solomon said he has met a lot of company executives who know their field, but not so much about how to run a business.

“Would you like to know how to do banking?” Solomon asked these companies, “and they said, ‘Yeah, we’re worried about that.’”

Solomon has a consultant for that. One of many, actually, with at least half boasting more than 40 years of experience in their respective fields.

In fact, he has people lining up who want to become consultants with his collaborative group. “I’m being deluged with emails from people I’ve never heard of before,” said Solomon. “I’ve never seen anything like it!”

Why, though, would a group of people who have already worked for 40+ years want to keep working? “They love their work, and they love solving the problems,” Solomon replied.

To learn more about the firm and how to hire a consultant, visit www.lpscolg.com or call (240) 403-7603.

Scoring a consultant

SCORE is another option for businesses in need of some insight from retirees and those still in the workforce alike.

Members of this organization have experience in many aspects of business in a wide range of fields.

SCORE offers free counseling and mentoring, as well as low cost workshops for starting or existing business in the D.C. metro area. Visit washingtondc.score.org or call (202) 619-1000 for more information.