What Your Volunteer Program Really Needs: A Gourmet Salad Dressing

Editor’s note: In honor of VM Summit 16, which is all about corporate/ nonprofit collaboration, this series of volunteerism-related blog posts will take one topic and explain how it’s relevant to both groups. Today’s topic? Skills-based volunteering. Check out our other blog, Volunteering is CSR, for the same topic from the perspective of corporate volunteer program managers.

By Sasha Bechtler-Levin

This blog series aims to address aspects of volunteering from both a nonprofit and a corporate side. In trying to write these two posts, I was at first frustrated by how difficult it was to tease apart which pieces of skills-based volunteering I should highlight in which post. That challenge, however, is just a testament to the mutually beneficial nature of skills-based volunteering. Let’s unpack why!

Napoleon Dynomite agrees that skills are important.

That’s right, Napoleon! Skills are key.

Imagine this: Your neighbor is throwing a dinner party for some visiting family. She posts on your neighborhood bulletin that she needs to borrow some kitchen items, including a large salad bowl, three chairs, and a tablecloth. You like to be neighborly, and you have a large salad bowl, so you bring it over to her, have a quick chat, and wish her good luck with the party. That’s all fine and well–she got what she needed, you feel good for helping her, you’ve worked on your relationship– things are good!

Skilled Volunteering is Like... Salad Dressing?

Skilled volunteering is like… salad dressing?

But what if she knew that you make a delightful salad dressing? What if instead of lending her your salad bowl, you stop by to ask if she’d instead like you to prepare your signature salad dressing. She replies that she does need a salad dressing, and was going to buy one from the store (she doesn’t have time to find a good recipe, source the ingredients, and make a large enough batch). She needs a bowl too, but you’re really great at salad dressing, you like making it anyway, and the challenge of scaling up your recipe for a bigger group is an interesting new twist. You know that the dressing will be an important piece of the meal, so you spend more time than you normally would sourcing the freshest ingredients, and measuring, and mixing, and when you bring the dressing over, you’re proud of your product.

In the process, you build a closer connection with your neighbor, maybe she’ll start inviting you to her dinner parties in the future, and maybe you’ll meet some interesting people at those dinner parties. You’ve also learned to understand your recipe on a deeper level, and maybe even improved it in a way you didn’t think was possible before.

If you haven’t already figured it out, this isn’t really about salad dressing. Skills-based volunteering can be the “salad dressing” to your nonprofit’s volunteer program, AKA “dinner party”. While many people have a variety of skills to “bring to the table,” corporate volunteers can be an exceptional resource.

So why do corporate volunteers want to use their skills to volunteer in the first place?

We already know that volunteering can be, and usually is, very fulfilling. That’s sort of a baseline for us volunteers, and here at VolunteerMatch, we’re into going beyond that baseline to look at how to make the best of volunteering. In a city as vibrant as San Francisco, we’re surrounded by experts and innovators–people are doing a lot of things and many of them are very good at doing those things. Potential corporate volunteers dedicate their time and energy to careers that are also fulfilling and meaningful to them. So, using the skills of their craft/trade/profession/passion to help others is like doubling their fulfillment. Why not harness those existing skills to help those who could use that expertise–your nonprofit and its clients?

This is what skills-based volunteering looks like.

Skills-based volunteering can also have more lasting effects–when volunteering feels more like a meaningful extension of your job and less like a once-in-a-blue-moon class field trip, volunteerism becomes a more naturally integrated part of corporate life. When professionals are using their skills to complete a service project, they will likely feel more like they “own” it and less like a visitor lending a hand at something new. This kind of ownership can inspire all kinds of positive change.

Shifting towards a program that accommodates the skills-based volunteering, however, can be tricky. Even the adaptation itself can be beneficial for your organization, however, because it forces you to prioritize your needs and communicate them clearly. In the salad dressing example, the neighbor (you, the nonprofit) didn’t add “salad dressing” to the neighborhood bulletin posting because she didn’t know that anyone specialized in and was happy to provide that. The lesson here is that you must make sure to ask for a salad dressing specialist (ie: website builder, marketing genius, graphic designer extraordinaire) if that is what your dinner party (organization) needs to be a great one.

Shifting towards this kind of program requires you to know what you want, communicate that you want it, and have a conversation with companies that may have the interested and capable volunteers. These kinds of conversations mark the happy place of nonprofit and corporate collaboration that makes our collective spine here at VolunteerMatch tingle.


Author bio: Sasha is a summer volunteer for VolunteerMatch’s marketing team. She is also a rising senior at the University of Southern California, where she’s pursuing her bachelor’s degree in philosophy, politics, and law. When not volunteering, she spends her time trying to quit coffee, teaching herself to shoot film photography, and wandering San Francisco.

Food for Thought: Does Screening Volunteers Save Money?

At VolunteerMatch, we learn so much from other experts in the fields of volunteer engagement and nonprofit management, and we want to help you stay up to date on the latest news and trends. Here’s some food for thought help you kick off the upcoming month. 

Volunteers Donor Blog Pic5 Ways Screening Volunteers Saves Money
From JFFixler Group:
Does volunteer screening actually save you money in the long run? The answer is yes, according to this post, which also includes some interesting stats around volunteer screening practices.

Pro Bono Volunteer Programs: A Valuable Resource to Tap Into
From Nonprofit Information:
We see it all the time. Technology companies offer free or discounted products to nonprofits, but nonprofits end up using them haphazardly, or even not at all, because they don’t have the resources to set it up properly. This is where pro bono volunteers come in. Here’s how to think through the pro bono process.

Want more on pro bono? Check out these 6 fascinating and informative quotes we compiled for Pro Bono Week 2015.

2016 Volunteer Management Progress Report
From VolunteerPro:
How does your volunteer engagement role compare with others in the field? The Volunteer Management Progress Report is filled with both expected and surprising stats on the current state of volunteer management, including demographics, salary, top challenges, and more.

The Two Forks and Timing
From Volunteer Plain Talk:
Volunteer training is an opportunity to create bonds with your volunteers right from the start. But how? According to Meridian Swift, it’s a formula involving fun, the right timing, and… forks?

For more tips from experts, check out the VolunteerMatch book that brings together 35 experts.

Food for Thought: Technology and the Future of Volunteer Management

At VolunteerMatch we learn so much from other experts in the fields of volunteer engagement and nonprofit management, and we want to help you stay up to date on the latest news and trends. Here’s some food for thought to keep your February going strong. 

Volunteer Engagement Roundup

What Does it Mean to Engage Tech Talent in Pro Bono?
From Taproot Foundation:
There’s a huge push for tech companies to “do good” and give back to their communities by volunteering. And by understanding the roles of employees within the tech industry, we can better understand the pro bono possibilities they can bring to our nonprofits.

Could a Robot Do the Job of a Volunteer Manager?
From e-Volunteerism:
Over the next 20 years, 35% of jobs in the UK will be taken over by robots, according to a study. What about volunteer managers? This article examines the difference between what tends to be in a volunteer manager’s job description vs. what they actually do.

Cost, Value, & Austerity: The Challenge for Volunteer Managers
From Third Sector:
When money is tight, is volunteer engagement training one of the first things to get cut? This article explores the unique issues volunteer managers face, and what you can do about it.

Looking to gather new volunteer management skills without spending money? Check out our free webinar series.

Great Mission. Bad Statement.
From Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR):
Are volunteers not engaging with your organization because of the words you use to communicate your mission? That is very likely, according to this article. Learn what you can do to increase the effectiveness of your language, and keep volunteers excited about your cause.

For more tips from experts, check out the VolunteerMatch book that brings together 35 experts.

November Food for Thought: What Are the Experts Saying?

At VolunteerMatch we learn so much from other experts in the fields of volunteer engagement and nonprofit management, and we want to help you stay up to date on the latest news and trends. Here’s some food for thought to get your November going.

Food for Thought12 Alternatives to Lecture-Based Volunteer Training
From Tobi Johnson:
You spend a lot of time on your volunteer training presentations. But how much of it are the volunteers actually retaining? Probably not a whole lot, according to Tobi. Find out what you can do about it.

7 Considerations for Managing Volunteer Risk
From The Nonprofit Times:
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for volunteer risk management. But there are some universal things to consider when forming your organization-specific plans and policies.

Want more on risk management? Check out the recorded webinar New Tools and Strategies for Managing Risk.

Using Volunteerism to Build Clients’ Skills
From Coyote Communications:
You may think you know all the ways volunteerism can help your organization. But you may be wrong. In this post, Jayne Cravens pushes us outside of our volunteer box with an unconventional way volunteerism can support your mission.

Attracting Skills-Based Arts Volunteers in the Age of Options
From Americans for the Arts
Americans for the Arts has made big shifts in their pro bono program. And they’ve also seen big results.

Interested in learning more about pro bono? Check out these 6 quotes to inspire your volunteer program.

And for more tips from experts, check out the VolunteerMatch book that brings together 35 experts.

6 Quotes About Pro Bono to Inspire Your Volunteer Program

Pro Bono Week 2015!It’s Pro Bono Week 2015And here at VolunteerMatch, that has us jumping for joy. Because we love pro bono and every chance we get to talk it up.

Why all the hype about pro bono volunteering? Well, when volunteer roles align with professional expertise, everyone wins.

Nonprofits gain expertise they might otherwise have been unable to afford. Volunteers gain new ways to practice and sharpen their skills and can connect with their communities in meaningful ways. Corporate volunteer programs get refreshed, fulfilled employees with new perspectives and heightened skill-sets.

VolunteerMatch's book, Volunteer Engagement 2.0, includes 3 chapters on pro bono volunteerism.In our book, Volunteer Engagement 2.0: Ideas and Insights Changing the World, we dedicate three entire chapters to pro bono and skilled volunteering. Haven’t read the book yet? It’s easy to order your copy today at a 25% off discount. In the meantime, we’ve pulled a few of our favorite quotes in honor of Pro Bono Week 2015:

Imagine if you were adding an additional 5 to 20 percent in value to your budget through high-quality, high-value pro bono? This is the potential of pro bono today. – Meg Garlinghouse & Alison Dorsey, LinkedIn for Good

Although more than 92 percent of nonprofits say that they would like to use a skilled volunteer, only 8 percent actively do. – Meg Garlinghouse & Alison Dorsey, LinkedIn for Good

Like all good initiatives, successful pro bono projects start with a clear need, articulated in a way that shows measurable goals and endpoints. – Alethea Hannemann, The Taproot Foundation

You want your pro bono consultants to treat you like a paying client, so you need to treat them as if you are paying, with all the expectations and responsibilities that go along with it. – Alethea Hannemann, The Taproot Foundation

Despite a mountain of evidence that workers love engaging their professional skills in doing good, most nonprofits say they simply aren’t getting enough pro bono help. – Deirdre White & Amanda MacArthur, PYXERA Global

Remember you have something precious to offer a rich and diverse community of pro bono professionals who want to give back: a meaningful and authentic experience! If you take time to invest upfront in pro bono, you can create the kind of experience that your volunteers will be hungry for and want to repeat! – Deirdre White & Amanda MacArthur, PYXERA Global

Want more? Order your copy of Volunteer Engagement 2.0 today at 25% off. And don’t forget to help us celebrate pro bono week by following along with #PBW15 on Twitter and sharing your stories.