As a nonprofit leader myself, I know how frequently social sector organizations are strapped for capacity. According to our research at Common Impact, most nonprofits spend only an estimated 2% of their budget to support key operations like marketing, technology or human resources, while peers in the corporate sector typically invest an average of 35% of their budget on these functions.
Engaging skilled volunteers (also known as pro bono service) can be way to solve the capacity challenge. Pro bono service holds tremendous potential for both companies and nonprofits, complementing traditional philanthropy and volunteerism while representing a sustainable resource for addressing on-going capacity needs and helping solve social problems. But volunteers aren’t “free” and in order for skilled volunteerism to be effective, your organization must be ready to make the most of this valuable contribution of time and talent.
While we’ve covered the benefits of skills-based volunteerism in the past, we also wanted to provide some practical guidance to getting started in this work. So, just in time for National Volunteer Week, we are sharing our six tips to a ensuring your organization is ready to tackle a skills-based volunteer project. We identified these factors and the resources to support them through our nearly 20 years of work developing pro bono programs and we hope these tips will guide you to a successful skills-based volunteer engagement.
- Strong executive leadership – An engaged leader will not only inspire the volunteer team to connect with your organization’s mission, but also ensure access to the support and resources necessary to a project’s success.
- Social impact potential – Organizations poised to create deep social impact make great candidates for skilled volunteer projects. A nonprofit with a strategic direction and effective programs with measured outcomes can engage skills-based volunteers in contributing meaningful impact toward social change, which supports not only the organization’s mission, but also volunteer enthusiasm for the project.
- Effective relationship building – Often skilled volunteerism can lead to long term partnerships, so strong relationship management is crucial to a project’s success. By fostering individual relationships with corporate employees, your organization can create long term champions, develop new corporate relationships and potentially unlock new funding streams and continued pro bono resources.
- Organizational stability – Before engaging skilled volunteers, a nonprofit should be in a position of financial and operational stability. While no volunteer expects perfection from their nonprofit partner, and often the pro bono project can help build financial or operational capacity, the organization should not be in a period of staff or management transition or experiencing significant board turn-over. Without this stability, it is challenging to align a skilled volunteer project with an organization’s strategic direction, allocate the necessary resources to managing the project and ensure the long-term sustainability of its outcomes.
- Commitment to capacity building – Since skills-based volunteerism focuses on improving organizational infrastructure and operation areas (i.e. not direct service activities), a nonprofit’s commitment to on-going capacity building is essential. This commitment should start with senior leadership and ensures that an organization is willing to devote resources toward managing, implementing and sustaining the results of a pro bono service project.
- Strategic volunteer engagement – An organization that strategically connects volunteers to its operations may already be using pro bono service successfully! But even if your nonprofit has yet to engage in a true skilled service project, knowing how to put volunteer time and talent to the best use possible will maximize the impact of your pro bono project.
Whether you are new to pro bono projects or a seasoned veteran, we encourage you to download our Nonprofit Skills-Based Volunteering Toolkit. The toolkit was developed to equip nonprofits to successfully engage skilled volunteers by providing the knowledge, tips, and tricks to ensure your organization is maximizing the value of pro bono.
What other resources or guidance would you offer to organizations engaged (or thinking about engaging) in skills-based volunteerism?