Alumni reach out to not-for-profit organizations

Princeton NJ -- The members of the class of 1956, who have reached an age when they are beginning to retire or consider retiring, have developed a project to put their years of accumulated wisdom to good use. The as-yet-unnamed program, part of the ReachOut '56 group, will pair members of the class of '56 with schools and not-for-profit organizations that could use a little help.

"We're endeavoring to marry the time, talent and energy of our classmates -- who are now about 67 and off the payroll -- with not-for-profits who could use a few gray hairs of wisdom," said Jack Fritts, a New York lawyer and one of the coordinators of the effort.

"There are endless not-for-profits out there that are being run by somebody who has a wonderful vision but doesn't know how to build an infrastructure, organize a board or do the financials," he pointed out. "And we have a bunch of people who know how to do those things and want to create some new relationships and not feel like they're just watching the grass grow."

Wide range of advice

The program will offer guidance on any topic in which its alumni have expertise. Advice on business tasks like bookkeeping, buying insurance and maintaining financial statements will probably be in high demand. The program also plans to involve alumni in mentoring teachers and school children.

The program has already helped Storytelling Arts, a not-for-profit organization in Princeton that sends professional storytellers to low-income schools and detention centers. Three members of the class of '56 had an all-day meeting with the group's board of directors and also consulted with a fund-raising expert to develop a strategy for the organization.

"We needed help with development and long-term planning, the kind of thing that people with experience in the business world would be able to help with," said Susan Danoff, the group's executive director and a member of Princeton's class of 1975. "I came to a non-profit as an educator, not as a businessperson, so I really needed help with that."

She has found their contributions enormously beneficial. "They're good listeners, and they have a lot of vision about how organizations can work," she said. "They've helped us to think about things in a different way."

Mentoring program

The class also is helping a credit union in East Harlem refine its mission and advising a lake association in Maine on how to battle an invasive weed. They are looking for other projects to take on.

To develop a mentoring program, the alumni are teaming up with the Foundation for Excellent Schools, a national, not-for-profit organization that works to improve student performance in low-income schools. Fifteen members of the class of '56 are spending a day at Paul Robeson High School in Brooklyn next month to see how the foundation's program works and think about how they could contribute to it.

"We have hundreds of people in our class, and they all have hugely different and interesting talents," Fritts said. "This is a way of giving back some things that they've learned."


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