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!

How Target Employee Volunteers Create a Lasting Impact Renovating School Libraries

According to Target, “One in six students who don’t read proficiently by third grade do not graduate from high school on time — a rate four times greater when compared to proficient readers.” A lack of resources plays a large role in the story those numbers tell, and students are unable to learn properly because only a fraction of their class even has books to read.

Target has decided to take this matter into their own hands. As part of Target’s corporate social responsibility program, they have chosen to put a special focus on education. Target’s goal is to renovate 175 libraries as part of the Library Makeover program that was started in 2007. By rebuilding the libraries, Target is able to provide students with new technology and books for a more useful academic resource.

Target has joined forces with The Heart of America Foundation to make this goal possible. Target has chosen schools that aim to raise their students’ reading proficiencies and have the ability to sustain a new library. These new resources will contribute to students learning to read, which helps set the foundation for future academic success.

Each library is designed and constructed pro bono. Over 3,000 Target employees all over the country are joining in to help build, design and stock these libraries. With the help of VolunteerMatch’s Employee Volunteer Solution, Target employees are able to find opportunities in their areas to be a part of a library renovation.

In addition to a brand new library, schools also receive 2,000 new books, and updated technology complete with iPads and interactive whiteboards. To top it off, Target has chosen to donate seven new books to each student and their siblings for them to take home. The schools are also offered the option to adopt the Target “Meals for Minds” program that donates healthy food to students and their families each month.

Dean Osaki, Target Community Relations Project Manager, spoke in 2013 about the renovation of a San Francisco elementary school. He said, “Target renovated Hillcrest Elementary School Library in October, and converging on the school were over 125 local Target team member volunteers. So many parents came up to see their child’s new library, and all left with smiles when each student left with 25 lbs. of healthy food, a new backpack, and seven new books!”

Over 700 volunteer hours go into each library renovation, which adds to the growing number of 107,000 total hours tracked since the Target Library Makeover Project was started. At VolunteerMatch we are impressed by this program because Target’s employee volunteers are helping to fix the root of the problem instead of slapping a bandaid on it. The new libraries are a result of volunteers getting together to grant each school and its students greater access to academic resources.

Congratulations to Target and all the schools they have helped and are planning to help, and keep up the great work!

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!

Expert Snapshots for November

Expert SnapshotsAt VolunteerMatch we learn so much from other experts in the field of volunteer engagement and management, and we want to help you stay up to date on the latest news and trends. Check back every month for snapshots of what experts in the field are talking about.

This month we’re highlighting LinkedIn discussions from various groups – check them out and join the groups to participate!

This is essential reading if you ever need to fire a volunteer | Posted by Rob Jackson in Volunteer Coordinators

Volunteerism consultant Rob Jackson shares a valuable blog post about how to approach “firing” a volunteer. Members of the group join the discussion with their thoughts on how best to tackle this tough job.

Probono recruiting for nonprofit is cool. Be inspired. | Posted by Bryan Breckenridge on LinkedIn Nonprofit Solutions

Recently a group of recruiters decided to start using their skills for good – to help nonprofits use LinkedIn to find the talent they need. Bryan shares details about this exciting new project with the LinkedIn Nonprofit Solutions group.

Should board members be OFF-LIMITS to the development staff? | Posted by Catherine Mokkosian-Eves in The Chronicle of Philanthropy

The role of board members in nonprofit fundraising is always a hot topic, and the 65 people who have participated in this discussion each bring their own experience and opinion. Scroll through to get insight from dozens of seasoned nonprofit professionals on the best (and worst) ways to involve your board members in fundraising efforts.

What great skills and abilities to you use or think you need to be a great volunteer manager/leader? | Posted by Angela Williamson in VolunteerMatch

What does it take to be a great volunteer manager? There’s no better place to get the answer to that question (or 17 answers!) than the VolunteerMatch LinkedIn group. Some of the answers from our more than 10,000 group members may surprise you…