Sir John Templeton lived to the ripe old age of 95, and hardly slowed down after selling his Templeton family of investment funds and shifting his steely focus from finance to his new purpose in life, philanthropy. The John Templeton Foundation continues to be a highly creative donor, disbursing approximately $70 million each year to advance knowledge and healthy social practice in areas like science and religion that were of keen interest to its founder. One ongoing project that is a particular tribute to the fecund philanthropy of John Templeton at the end of his life is the Purpose Prize.
Current Templeton Foundation president Jack Templeton notes that his father “frequently wrote about the importance of purpose in retirement,” and took great satisfaction from the fact that “his second career in philanthropy enabled him to contribute to the long-term spiritual wealth of others.” With that as backdrop, the Templeton Foundation partnered with Atlantic Philanthropies to create an award for people who find impressive new ways to contribute to society after retiring.
The 2013 Purpose Prize winners included Vicki Thomas of Purple Hearts Homes, which adapts houses that are too difficult for wounded veterans to navigate, and Ysabel Duron, a former TV anchor who is helping to educate and provide support services to low-income Latinos dealing with cancer. Those two winners received $100,000 each to continue their work. Another five Purpose Prize winners were awarded $25,000 each. The Templeton Foundation has devoted more than $8 million to the award since 2005.
“The Purpose Prize winners model my father’s passion, using their gifts and talents for the benefit of others, and inspiring other donors,” says Jack Templeton. The recipients apply skills they learned in their first careers to make a difference in their second ones. Thomas, who worked in marketing, public relations, and fundraising for ABC and the Credit Union National Association, has helped to raise millions of dollars for Purple Heart Homes, increasing the organization’s revenues by 600 percent in her first year on the job.
The Purpose Prize was intended to popularize the idea that even an aging population has tremendous potential to be productive. To echo that message the Templeton Foundation has given an additional $5 million for its “I’m an Encore” project to collect and publicize the narratives of people from all walks of life who accomplish great things after retirement. It is also supporting a higher-education initiative called Encore U that helps people to find these new paths. As the idea of “encore careers” gains traction, the Wall Street Journal recently likened the Purpose Prize to the “genius” awards long given by the MacArthur Foundation to celebrate first-career achievements.
So far there have been more than 400 Purpose Prize winners, runners-up, and “Encore fellows.” As word spreads, there are more and more nominations each year—more than a thousand in the latest round. The phenomenon is likely to grow in the future.
“Research shows that about a quarter of the population in the second half of life are interested in becoming entrepreneurs, half of those as social entrepreneurs,” says Mark Freedman of Encore.org, which administers the prize. Already, “nine million Americans have moved into ‘second acts’ focused on the greater good. Some 31 million more have said they want to follow that path and express a practical idealism aimed at solving problems in areas like education, health, and poverty.”
Men and women after Sir John’s heart.