At work, no one wants to feel like a cog in a machine. People are more engaged and inspired when they can leverage their unique talents and skills to do their job. Though it’s a different type of work, the same is true for volunteering.
For the people managing corporate volunteer programs, it’s worth remembering that volunteers are more likely to get involved and stay involved if they feel like, as an individual, they bring a distinct value to the work. Many organizations are tapping into this enthusiasm by embracing skills-based volunteering. Skills-based volunteering is a win-win-win—nonprofits get access to specialized skills, employees are more fulfilled, and businesses give their brand a boost.
What is skills-based volunteering?
Skills-based volunteering is an approach to giving back that leverages employees’ job-related expertise in their volunteer work. For example, a graphic designer helps a nonprofit with their annual report or newsletter design.
Pro bono (‘for the public good’) is a type of skills-based volunteering. While most commonly associated with law firms, this descriptor applies to any donation of professional services that an organization would normally charge for. A technology consulting firm’s employees might conduct a cybersecurity audit for a nonprofit, for instance.
Skills-based volunteering can mean a range of commitments, such as:
- 30 minutes of volunteering to translate a document
- A few hours a week over three weeks to develop and implement an SEO strategy
- Several hours a week over three months to help implement software, update processes, and conduct training
Some companies use the skills-based approach to build robust volunteering programs with long-term commitments. Jen Carter, global head of technology and volunteering at Google.org, joined us during the Impact Studio conference to discuss the Google.org Fellowship, a program that allows employees to dedicate six months of full-time skills-based volunteering to a nonprofit.
Closing the skills gap for nonprofits
Many nonprofits operate with small staff and limited budgets, which means they don’t always have someone on staff with the specialized or technical skills they need. Talented volunteers can help fill that gap.
Patricia Toothman, social impact manager at Splunk, said Splunk’s volunteer program helps many nonprofits bridge the “data divide” by connecting volunteers with technical skills in areas like cybersecurity and data processing to nonprofits that wouldn’t otherwise have access to these skillsets. Skills-based volunteers bring valuable expertise and perspective to a nonprofit’s mission-critical projects and operations.
When nonprofits work with skills-based volunteers, they don’t have to spend money hiring staff and consultants for projects and one-off tasks—talent they couldn’t otherwise afford.
Skills-based volunteering helps employees grow and develop
Volunteering is a win-win for the employee and the nonprofit. Employees can practice skills and gain experience that opens up new opportunities at work.
While volunteering, employees get the chance to build relationships and expand their network. They can connect with nonprofit staff, other volunteers, and colleagues from other departments who they don’t often get to work with. For example, a co-worker from IT might assess the nonprofit’s technology needs while someone from HR helps the CEO hone their interview skills.
Employees get a sense of purpose from this transformative type of volunteering. They have the satisfaction of producing a clear deliverable, such as a new website, employee handbook, or strategic plan for a good cause. In short, they make a meaningful difference with their skills and knowledge.
The upside of skills-based volunteering for your company
Skills-based volunteering gives employees a chance to practice both the soft and technical skills that will help them be an effective teammate. Skills-based volunteering gives them the opportunity to experiment with new ideas in real-life situations and take on leadership roles. It’s also a space where less-experienced volunteers can shadow and learn from their more experienced colleagues.
These opportunities to enhance skills and grow professionally are what job hunters seek. A skills-based volunteering program makes it easier for you to attract and retain top talent, especially socially conscious professionals. Per Deloitte Global’s 2022 Millennial and Gen Z Survey, young professionals seek “increased learning and development opportunities” along with “a greater commitment from businesses to make a positive societal impact.”
Volunteering together strengthens relationships between employees and lays the foundation for future collaboration. For example, a volunteer team with staff from IT, finance, advocacy, and marketing work together on a nonprofit’s fundraising campaign. These employees might not have worked together before, but this project may spark ideas about how they can collaborate more in the future.
With skills-based volunteering, your company creates social impact in a substantial and tangible way. This is a great story to share both internally and externally. Brands that actually live up to their CSR promises are much better at attracting customers, employees, and investors.
Creating the right volunteer opportunities for every employee
Employees can contribute to the nonprofit sector in countless ways. Projects should be tailored to fit the employee skills and the nonprofit’s needs. Here are a few examples of volunteer opportunities by discipline:
- HR: draft policies, write job descriptions, or develop an employee handbook.
- Marketing: advise on digital and social media advertising strategy teams, sponsorship sales, or marketing and fundraising campaigns.
- Business strategy: conduct SWOT analysis, strategic planning, or process assessment and improvement.
- Data and technology: develop technology requirements for new software, set up QuickBooks, or create data analytics dashboards and reports.
Skills-based volunteers can also teach nonprofit staff and/or volunteers a specific skill, for example, how to use accounting software or understand their website’s Google Analytics. They can also work directly with community members to provide skills training that the nonprofit’s constituents need.
In Montgomery, Alabama, Regions Bank partners with Mercy House, a nonprofit organization, to connect bank employees with local families. The employees provide one-on-one financial counseling to help address people’s unique financial challenges.
How to get started with skills-based volunteering
Having a general framework for launching a skills-based volunteering program is essential. However, since no two nonprofits are alike, tailor your project management process to the nonprofit’s needs and circumstances.There is not a one-size-fits-all playbook. Each partnership will be unique. Here are the steps to think about as you look to adopt a skills-based approach.
- Identify nonprofits that align with your company and staff values.
- Meet with nonprofit leadership to discuss their goals and needs.
- Determine how your company can help.
- Appoint an account or project manager who serves as a liaison with the nonprofit. This person ensures the volunteers—and nonprofit staff—stick to the plan and follow through on their responsibilities.
- On your volunteering platform, describe open opportunities along with project goals, required skills, and time commitment. Employees can browse these listings and find the ones that match their skill sets and interests.
- Invite employees who would benefit most from the experience to sign up.
Afterwards, do a retrospective after major projects with the volunteers and nonprofit staff involved. Discuss what went well, what didn’t, and what you would do differently next time. This information is useful for liaisons and volunteers for future projects.
Share project success stories and outcomes with the entire staff—your public relations team will love them too. When volunteers see a visualization of the hours spent on the project, they’ll feel a great sense of accomplishment.
Skills-based volunteering helps individuals leverage their unique skills to give back in meaningful ways. Moving forward, corporate leaders should look for ways their organization as a whole can do the same. Explore how your team can deepen your partnership with nonprofits, incorporate social impact into your business mission, and become a values-driven brand.