Engaging Talent in Best Work

Guest post by Stephen Ristau

Engaging Talent in Best WorkToo often I hear from highly skilled and motivated people, “I just can’t seem to find a nonprofit organization that uses my professional talent well.” And despite the great strides that nonprofits have made in recent years to design volunteer or pro bono work experiences that require advanced expertise or training, I still see a disconnect between the available talent pool and the engagement opportunities nonprofits offer.

Do you find this to be true also? Has your organization stepped up the caliber of short-term, project-oriented work that taps into the motivations and expertise of volunteers? How can we assure effective volunteer matches that meet the mutual goal of “best work?”

I am interested in hearing about your experiences, cool ideas and best practices.

Here are some of mine:

  1. Do your homework – Engaging talent (paid or pro bono) is expensive but is well worth the time and effort to do it well. Done right, you are providing a pathway for the contribution of skills and expertise you otherwise may not be able to afford- you can ill afford to not prepare for this potential infusion of talent.
  2. Define what you need – Most of today’s volunteers want to know what impact they will have. Ask yourself “what will happen as a result of this project?” to get at the expected outcomes and deliverables, and then describe the resources and support you will make available to your volunteer to get the job done.
  3. Tailor opportunities to fit your volunteers – While many of us have used volunteers in the same roles for years, today’s volunteers (from Millennials to Boomers) want to use their skills to make a difference. Be prepared to customize short-term, high-yield engagements that may result in “repeat business” from volunteers who discover that your organization knows how to involve them best.
  4. Engage volunteers’ “eyes and ears” to determine new ways they can contribute – Be a progressive talent manager and engage volunteers in identifying organizational issues, challenges, and solutions they see. Collaborate on project plans, assess the strengths and interests of your volunteers, and support volunteers in the customizing of positions that meet your most pressing organizational gaps.
  5. Lead, follow, AND get out of the way – The best leaders and managers know how and when to do all of these: know how to provide direction, enable leadership and initiative, and clear the way for those with the talent and drive to get things done right the first time. Understand the capabilities and experience of your human resources, including volunteers, and allocate your time and supervision accordingly.

“Best work” organizations, nonprofit and for-profit, are those with human resources that champion innovation and learning, are accountable for outcomes, and are able to work in a coordinated team environment.

How are you maximizing opportunities for your nonprofit to achieve this “best work” standard? Let us know.

Stephen Ristau has been a nonprofit executive and social entrepreneur.  An innovator in the national encore movement, he has led Transforming Life After 50 and the SVP Portland Encore Fellows program.Contact Stephen at stephenristau@gmail.com and www.linkedin.com/pub/stephen-ristau/4/75/b28.

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