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!

One Woman’s Journey from Recipient of Services to a Community Leader, and the Skilled Volunteers Who Helped Her Do It

Teresa with skilled volunteers at The Women's BuildingWhen María Teresa Mejía (or just Teresa to those who know her) introduces herself, you travel with her back to Puerto Rico where she was born, then lost her mother and sister to a tragic domestic violence shooting. Teresa describes working with battered women at shelters, co-founding women empowerment organizations, and then restarting from scratch as a Spanish-speaking immigrant in San Francisco.

After Teresa arrived in San Francisco in 1992, she experienced what it meant to be a Spanish-speaking immigrant with no support or resources. That reality was her first connection with what The Women’s Building had to offer – support and an opportunity to grow. Her life was changed the day she walked through those doors.

Recent VolunteerMatch Communications & Social Media Intern Rana Ayed spent time with Teresa to hear about her journey from recipient of services, to dedicated volunteer, and finally to a leader in her own right. Read about how the services provided by skilled volunteers at The Women’s Building empowered Teresa to start her new life, and how she now passes that strength along to make a difference in other women’s lives.

Read Teresa’s story of how skilled volunteering made a difference for her and her community.

How Net Impact Students Offer Critical Help to Nonprofits

Guest post by Laura Diez, Environmental Sustainability Careers Associate, Net Impact

Net Impact's Projects for Good pairs organizations with students who have the will – and skills – to get work done.Projects for Good pairs organizations with students who have the will – and skills – to get work done.

For nonprofits, having capacity to complete a laundry list of projects is somewhat of a luxury. It seems like whenever one big project finishes, three more pop up in its place. Net Impact aims to solve this common capacity issue with a new online platform, Projects for Good.

Connecting organizations that need extra help completing strategic initiatives with students who want to build skills, Projects for Good (just like VolunteerMatch!) plays a key part in securing the right folks to complete meaningful work.

Net Impact's new platform Projects for Good connects skilled students with nonprofits to complete volunteer projects.

Curious how it works? I say go straight to the source – in this case, World Resources Institute (WRI), who turned to Projects for Good this past spring to help market its new sSWOT (Sustainability SWOT) tool that translates broad and complex sustainability challenges into actionable strategies.

I learned a lot about the resulting collaborations in an interview with WRI’s Eliot Metzger. See some of his excerpted thoughts below, and for the full interview visit the Net Impact blog.

Net Impact: How did your collaboration with companies lead to the sSWOT guide?

Eliot Metzger: The concept grew out of conversations we had with partner companies in 2010. The common difficulty they all seemed to face was in translating the high-level global trends – like climate change – into something that could resonate with colleagues and inform specific actions and strategies.

Net Impact: How does your Project for Good serve WRI’s mission?

Eliot Metzger: The project we posted – a marketing plan for the sSWOT – is very much about putting into mainstream practice something that was once just a concept.

Our objective was to broaden adoption and help establish the sSWOT as a common means of evaluating and acting on corporate sustainability priorities. That was when we tapped into Net Impact and Projects for Good.

With the marketing plan project, we were looking for a team that could offer ideas for how the sSWOT could be best positioned for those future business leaders who would use it. We were looking for students who had some private sector experience, as well as experience in MBA programs that were putting sustainability into mainstream practice.

Net Impact: How do you envision the sustainability SWOT analysis framework establishing itself within nonprofits and businesses?

Eliot Metzger: As we have learned, it is difficult to imagine the full spectrum of potential applications. The sSWOT has been used for far-ranging purposes, just as a traditional SWOT would be used. Ultimately, that is what we would hope to see – a flexible tool that can complement initiatives that are shaping companies’ core strategies.

The modest starting point for that is likely to be with an individual or a small team. Those that adopt the sSWOT can engage colleagues internally or externally on topics that may not otherwise be front and center for decision makers. A few “ah ha” moments and successful discussions can snowball into further integration and ownership of the sSWOT concept. Then you can imagine the sSWOT becoming part of common strategic processes like annual strategy reviews or stakeholder feedback sessions.

Net Impact: What made you decide that Projects for Good was the right venue for this?

Eliot Metzger: Net Impact really has no equal as a network of future business leaders who are working to put sustainability risks and opportunities on the business agenda. It was a no-brainer to help pilot the Projects for Good platform and tap into such a network for support.

We look forward to tapping into it again as the platform continues to develop. There is a lot of promise in the concept of connecting brilliant students with organizations who are working to create solutions for sustainability challenges.

Interested in taking part? Projects for Good is still accepting projects after its official launch on August 19. As an added bonus, projects completed by December 9 are eligible to win $10,000 in Challenge Grant prizes!

Why Psychology Graduate Students Make Perfect Crisis Center Volunteers

Editor’s Note: When most people think about skilled volunteering, they think lawyers, doctors, mechanics, writers, marketers… but skilled volunteers come in all shapes and sizes, each with their own set of challenges and rewards. Here is an article about finding volunteers with the right skills for a crisis center.

Guest post by Casey Wheeler

Psychology graduate students have the skills needed to be crisis center volunteersIf you are a manager or recruiter for a crisis center, you know how important it is to find committed volunteers. On top of this, you also need volunteers who are emotionally and mentally capable of listening to and seeing things that, at times, may be unsettling. There are many people who have these qualifications, but there is one sub-group of people that is particularly suited for this type of work: psychology graduate students.

Crisis centers can benefit from recruiting volunteers with psychology degrees, because many topics in psychology can be applied to crisis counseling, including the following four:

Knowledge of Therapy Techniques

Crisis center volunteers often provide basic counsel to people who have experienced suicidal thoughts, domestic violence, sexual assault or abuse, substance abuse, and other traumatic events. Although volunteers are trained to handle these situations, crisis centers could benefit from recruiting counselors who already have backgrounds in psychology and therapy techniques. Because psychology grad students are required to learn similar information in school, they should find it easy to learn and apply the counseling methods used at crisis centers.

Knowledge of and Ability to Recognize Mental Illness

Not all victims of tragedy suffer from mental illness, but some do. Volunteers who recognize the difference between normal behavior and mental illness will know when a person needs additional professional help, and this knowledge could help save a life.

There is a fine line between temporary, situational sadness and chronic depression; volunteers with psychology degrees may find it easier to distinguish between the two, because they have learned the indicators of mental illness.

Trained to Handle Confidential Information

As part of their curriculum, psychology students are taught the legal importance of keeping information that is shared in therapy confidential, unless someone’s life is in danger. This same commitment to confidentiality applies to crisis center counselors. With the knowledge they received in school, volunteers with psychology degrees should know how to handle confidential information appropriately and when and how to report information to a manager or to the police.

Familiar with Counseling Ethics

In addition to keeping information confidential, there are other standards that apply to crisis center counseling. Some volunteer counselors learn about these standards during their training, but volunteers with psychology degrees should already know them by heart.

Counseling ethics is an important subject that is taught in all psychology programs, so grad students should understand the importance of ethics, as well as the consequences of unethical behavior. Recruiting volunteers with this kind of knowledge is vital to maintaining a reputable crisis center.

Are you interested in bringing on more volunteers with backgrounds in psychology? The best place to start is at your local university or college (if it has a psychology department). A few great places to post information on campus about how to volunteer include the career center, graduate school, and the alumni center. Different college campuses may have different rules for recruiting volunteers on campus, so be sure you know these rules before proceeding with your recruiting plans.

Casey Wheeler is a freelance writer and career counselor with a degree in psychology. Using his educational and professional background as a foundation, Casey most enjoys writing about anything related to psychology and learning. He also regularly writes for www.OnlinePsychologyDegree.net, a great resource for students interested in pursuing an online degree in psychology. Please leave your questions or comments for Casey below.