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.

How to Deepen Your Impact by Engaging Skilled Volunteers

Our recent announcement of a new partnership to automatically post all skilled volunteer listings from the VolunteerMatch network to LinkedIn’s Volunteer Marketplace has shed a serious spotlight on the importance and potential of skilled volunteering. Check out this special series of posts exploring skilled volunteering as a category, a strategy, and, of course, an inspiration for greater impact.

How to deepen engagement by recruiting skilled volunteers for your nonprofitSo, with the help of VolunteerMatch and LinkedIn, you have a (free!) tool at your disposal for recruiting awesome skilled volunteers to support your nonprofit with important, high-impact projects.

But where do you start? What outcomes would be most valuable? How do you work out those nuts and bolts like screening, security, and accountability? Would something like this even be worthwhile for your organization to pursue?

Start by allowing yourself to think big for a minute. What could your organization achieve, if you had no funding and operational limits? What pain points have you grown so used to, that you’ve forgotten they could be different? What have you dreamed of doing but never thought possible? You’re doing good work, but couldn’t your impact be expanded?

Maybe your website does the job, but just barely. Or your logo and branding aren’t keeping up with the design-centric world we live in, and no longer gets the attention or respect you want for your nonprofit. There might be some really juicy data that you could share with potential donors, but can’t extract from your messy database. Perhaps you’ve tried your hand at social media marketing and PR, but nothing seems to work and you still only have a few followers. Or maybe you’ve been dreaming about that perfect fundraising event, but have no idea where to start…

As the wheels start turning, consider whether your organization could benefit from expertise in some of these areas:

  • Graphic and Web design
  • Accounting
  • Marketing
  • Social Media
  • Database management
  • Event planning
  • HR
  • Branding and messaging
  • IT
  • Market research
  • Strategic planning

The list goes on and on. Once you have your project in mind, and you’ve got some other members of your team on board with the idea of working with skilled volunteers, here are some things to think about as you get started.

Finding the Right Volunteer for the Job

It doesn’t hurt to cast a wide net. Post the opportunity on VolunteerMatch and select the desired skill set, and we’ll share the listing with 300 million skilled professionals on LinkedIn’s Volunteer Marketplace. Be sure to make your listing as clear and detailed as possible. The more volunteers know up front, the more likely they’ll be to seriously consider getting involved. Keep in mind that this is a professional relationship, and it should be approached in much the same way as hiring a paid staff person or service provider.

In addition to posting on VolunteerMatch, look at who you have in your existing team of volunteers. Do any of them have the skills you’re looking for? Spread the word in your volunteer newsletter about an exciting new way to get involved. You can also approach local businesses, universities, and professional groups. Many of these people will jump at the chance to hone their own professional skills for a good cause while expanding their network at the same time.

Screening Candidates

Are you wary of handing over your organization’s sensitive information for security reasons? Good! You should be! But that doesn’t mean there’s not a smart way to do it. Even if there isn’t any security risk associated with your project, you still want to screen candidates to make sure they’ll be reliable, trustworthy, and actually have the skills and experience to do a good job. Ask for resumes, conduct interviews, check their references, run background checks.

Remember that you don’t want just anyone. Engaging the wrong volunteer could result in wasted time and resources for everyone. If you don’t think someone is the best person for the role, tell them just that.

Defining the Project and Managing Expectations

When you’re engaging a volunteer to support you with a complex project or task, it’s important to lay everything out on the table. Put the desired outcomes down in writing, along with a proposed timeline and designated check-in points. Each party should sign a letter of agreement or memorandum of understanding (MoU). Everyone should be on the same page from the start about what a successful completion will look like. Then, you can take a step back and let everyone do what they do best.

Embarking on big projects with skilled volunteers can be daunting, especially if you’ve never engaged volunteers on this level before, or if you tried it once and things didn’t go so well. But professionals today have so much value to share with the nonprofit community, and when approached in the right way, skilled volunteering relationships can be rewarding for everyone involved–your organization, your volunteers, and those you serve.

Does your organization engage skilled volunteers to achieve greater impact? Tell us about it!

Thinking…Bigger about Skilled Volunteering for Nonprofits

Our recent announcement of a new partnership to automatically post all skilled volunteer listings from the VolunteerMatch network to LinkedIn’s Volunteer Marketplace has shed a serious spotlight on the importance and potential of skilled volunteering. Check out this special series of posts exploring skilled volunteering as a category, a strategy, and, of course, an inspiration for greater impact.

Thinking bigger about skilled volunteering, now with LinkedIn and VolunteerMatch.

When I first got wind late in 2013 that LinkedIn was launching a Volunteer Marketplace in the New Year, I sighed. Out loud. VolunteerMatch is a volunteer marketplace.

We’ve seen this before. In fact, there are new websites, apps, services, etc. popping up all the time. Some are awesome. Some are not.

And despite my audible sighs, I actually love hearing about them all. It pushes us to think differently and to challenge our own assumptions about the VolunteerMatch approach.

There’s more to it, though: a big part of our future takes place outside the walls of VolunteerMatch, and our ability to work with other systems will continue to be very important to our growth. Read more about the past and future development of VolunteerMatch here.

And LinkedIn is big. 300+million-members-big.

So, I paid close attention to the reasons LinkedIn was creating this marketplace. I listened as they shared their partnership plan – and how they were looking to partners to help them build out their vision of connecting their members to skilled opportunities in communities around the country (to start).

This is big for VolunteerMatch. Big because it showcases how amazing our nonprofits are. Big because it illustrates how the right partnerships can create a new game.

So, we got to work.

People haven’t traditionally thought of VolunteerMatch as a place where skilled volunteering is taking place. And now they do. The reality is that, every day, people are finding projects that tap their skills and nonprofits are learning how to think creatively about their volunteers.

Today we have over 6,000 skilled listings and an array of resources that has helped to continually grow that number.

We are the most powerful volunteer engagement network on the Web and are only getting stronger. Tactically, we’ve got the most skilled listings, sure. But strategically, we can shape the future of skilled volunteering together with partners like LinkedIn. And that’s a big idea.

Already we’re seeing increases in the connections because of this partnership—VolunteerMatch lisings shared on LinkedIn are likely to see 2-3x the sign-ups as those not shared. And with the announcement of our partnership, we expect the number of skilled listings to continue to grow.

We’re also ramping up our trainings for nonprofits to make sure they have the resources to easily take advantage of this opportunity. And our corporate partners are thrilled to have even more skilled opportunities to share with their employees.

So thanks, LinkedIn. Personally, for helping me think…even bigger. And also for being our partner in building an amazing future for skilled volunteering and the causes that benefit from it.

Read more about how engaging skilled volunteers can help your nonprofit organization – and how to do it successfully.

Post on VolunteerMatch.org right now to engage skilled volunteers for your organization!

How Skilled Volunteers Can Make a Difference for You in 2014

How skilled volunteers can make a difference for you in 2014.

A United Saints volunteer helps rebuild homes in New Orleans.

Here at VolunteerMatch, we like talking about skilled volunteering. By creating the best match possible between a volunteer’s passions and skills with a nonprofit’s needs, there is a great chance to form a lasting connection and real community impact.

Whether your organization is already engaging skilled volunteers or not, the New Year is a great time to think strategically about how recruiting people with specific skill sets can help you reach your goals in 2014. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Plan More Events

Planning events can be time-consuming and stress-increasing. But there are individuals out there who thrive on this type of work, and who are very good at it. Why not engage some skilled volunteers to help you plan stellar events next year? With more help, and people who really know what they’re doing, your events will be better and there’ll be more of them.

Make Things Prettier

By “things” I mean both your organization’s physical and digital presence. You can recruit a volunteer with a green thumb and a flair for decorating to spruce up your office. You can also engage a graphic designer to overhaul your logo, website, or cook up some dynamite ads for the New Year.

Diversify Your Funding

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Fundraising can be a great way to engage volunteers AND improve your organization’s financial situation. If you’re looking to build more relationships with foundations, find a volunteer grant writer. Or, dip your toes into the exciting world of crowdfunding by engaging volunteers to do some social fundraising online.

Get Serious About Social Media

Chances are you’ll never know more about social media than a volunteer you could recruit to run your social media for you. Millennials, especially, are itching to put their digital native skills to good use for causes they care about.

Step Up Volunteer Engagement

Volunteer engagement and management is at least one full-time job all on its own. So why not recruit some skilled volunteers to help you engage volunteers and develop out your program?

How are you planning on engaging skilled volunteers next year to make a difference for your organization? Don’t wait – post your opportunities to VolunteerMatch now!

Top 3 Things I Learned About Pro Bono from the First Twitter Talk Tuesday

This post also appears on Volunteering is CSR.

Tweet, Twitter, Bird, Blue, Twig, Branch, Green, HillsOn Tuesday, November 19, my team and I rounded up with coffee in our hands and entered the Twittersphere to begin our first Twitter Talk Tuesday. As an intern at VolunteerMatch I was able to be an integral part of the project. Our first topic was pro bono and skilled volunteering.

To be honest, I am not an expert in this field and I was a little intimidated to be a participating member of Twitter Talk Tuesday. Here are some of the things I learned throughout the hour-long chat:

Setting the foundation of a pro bono project

We started the chat off talking about how the initial conversation between a nonprofit and a company can be complicated concerning pro bono projects. Many of the responses we received said that both parties need to be clear on what the goal is, how to efficiently reach that goal and provide guidelines for how they will work together. Some even provided links with resources to additional help.

Mutually beneficial pro bono relationships

Later in the Twitter chat we discussed who benefits from a pro bono project more: a nonprofit, volunteers, or the corporation. When I was first thinking about this subject I had immediately come to the conclusion that it was a win-win-win situation. However, some of our participants shed light on a few problems involved. I learned that yes, ideally pro bono projects should benefit all parties, but sometimes the needs of the company can overpower the needs of the organization.

On the other hand, those that successfully create a pro bono project allow for nonprofits to get what they need without having to pay for it, employees get to utilize and even sharpen their skills, and corporations increase their impact for good.

Planning a pro bono project

We also discussed how organizations can plan for pro bono projects. An important realization is that there isn’t one right process; each project is unique to the particular needs of the nonprofit and company involved. The planning team must be flexible and be willing to put in the hard work that goes into pro bono projects. In addition to this, it is equally important to know what kind of skills the community and the corporate employees have to offer.

There are a lot of different aspects that go into these projects, but the outcome is definitely worth it. A running theme throughout our Twitter chat was that these projects are unique and must be treated as such. There must be plenty of flexibility, research, communication and cooperation in order to have a successful outcome.

Overall, the first Twitter Talk Tuesday was incredibly helpful and gave me some insight as to how nonprofits and corporations come together for a pro bono project to help out those in need.

Be on the look out for our next Twitter Talk Tuesday! Keep the conversation going about pro bono volunteering using the hashtag #vmtalk. Tweet you soon!