Leading a Philanthropic Life in Retirement

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September 05, 2014

Mary Martuscelli and Heidi Steiger discuss focusing on philanthropy goals during retirement.

Mary Martuscelli; Illustration by Joel Kimmel

Heidi Steiger; Illustration by Joel Kimmel



What advice do you give retirees when they begin to explore philanthropy?

Martuscelli: I usually encourage people to make a list. What are my interests? What do I really like to do? This may help ensure you’re getting involved with an organization where you truly believe in the mission. Many people say, “I’ve just got to get involved.” But if it’s not something you’re passionate about, you’ll lose interest.


Steiger: For a lot of my clients, particularly corporate executives, so much of their identity is wrapped up in their work. The main advice I give is never to jump quickly into the next activity. You need to spend time soul-searching to think about the parts of the workday you really enjoy.


What are the best ways to research charities and other nonprofit groups?

Martuscelli: Look at Charity Navigator or IRS 990 forms online to check the finances of the organization. They usually list the board of directors, and you might know someone whom you can call. Take a tour of the organization, and talk to other people who volunteer there on a regular basis.​



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September 05, 2014

Serving on nonprofit boards is a popular way for retirees to give back. How can clients participate in them?

Steiger: Almost any board will accept a volunteer. This gives you a way to get to know the organization and see if you can make an impact. I’m a great believer that you don’t stay on a board for the rest of your life. Think of it as a 10-year commitment, and then look for the next opportunity.


Martuscelli: Boards also look for individuals with specific experience. They might look for somebody with a strong marketing background, a person with an investment background or someone who knows about fundraising. Nonprofits try to make sure their boards of directors are diverse, not only as far as gender and race but also in skill set.


What about clients who want to combine philanthropy with other passions, such as family or travel?

Steiger: Because there are so many opportunities out there, it’s often easy to find one that aligns with very specific interests and passions. For example, I’m interested in how you can get people in developing nations to be self-supporting. What skill sets are you giving them, and how does that change them, their family and their community? So I’m on the board of an organization called Accion International, which is involved in microfinance

and organizes trips all over the world.


Martuscelli: If you can do something with your family and friends, that’s what I call a “twofer.” You’re getting to spend quality time with people, and you’re also doing good in the community. Whether you’re coaching Little League, working at the food bank or raising money at a walk-a-thon, there are all kinds of activities you can do together. That’s what it’s all about: continuing to help others and making this world a better place.


Learn more about Martuscelli and Steiger's philanthropic involvement.


Does most philanthropic work center on donations and fundraising?

Martuscelli: Most boards are looking for people who can either give or get money. If the charity says, “To join the board, you need to give or raise $5,000,” do you want to write a check for the full amount or do a fundraising event?


Steiger: With that said, there are many simple ways to help that don’t involve a lot of money, from being a Big Brother or Big Sister to tutoring. For example, I edited a book, and we donated the proceeds to the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, which teaches teenagers to start small businesses.


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