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!

What are Your Volunteers Learning from You?

A Horton's Kids volunteer and student.

Often volunteers learn as much as those they serve. A volunteer and student with Horton’s Kids.

Recently I was perusing my long list of LinkedIn groups, and I stumbled upon a discussion about what skills people have acquired from volunteering.

I was quickly captivated by the stories the group members told. The more I read, the more two things became clear:

1. Extraordinary people volunteer.

2. Volunteering will help make you an extraordinary person.

Below is just a sample of what people said they learned from volunteering. I bet if you ask your volunteers what they’ve learned from their experiences with you, they will have some similarly incredible answers:

Working with adults who have ADHD is challenging and fun, and you learn to think on your feet.

“I have volunteered for most of my life as well. In high school, I helped tutor inner city children, and I still remember one young girl in particular. I learned that perhaps all they needed was a little extra help and attention (at least back then). Being an assistant Brownie leader was also rewarding, learning how to relate to girls in that capacity. Then my volunteerism leaned towards the environment and activism. I parlayed my years of learning and experience into a new career after I lost my job in 2009. Yet another rewarding opportunity was being a facilitator for a local ADD support organization. Working with adults who have ADHD is challenging and fun, and you learn to think on your feet. While earning my BS, and then after, I turned that experience into a part time side business leading a mutual ADD coaching group.”

“I have learned human resource management and project management skills. Collaborating skills, training with executive staff, and leadership skills. Also tons of training, curriculum design and presentations skills. Most important was the team-building and patience. Volunteering is fun, rewarding and so very worthwhile… we always get back so much more than we give…”

“I learned about public speaking while volunteering at the Houston Zoo. We were each assigned an animal at the zoo and had to stand in front of their exhibit and talk to people about the animal and habitat, etc. Also, “manning” booths at various events for a variety of volunteer organizations — that teaches you how to speak with people from all walks of life about something you are passionate about. Love it!”

Have you asked your volunteers what they’ve learned from you? How do you make sure your organization is providing enriching experiences for your volunteers?

Nonprofit Tip of The Month: Add Skills to Engage Pro Bono Volunteers

Engage skilled volunteers using your VolunteerMatch account.

Does your organization actively recruit skilled volunteers? If not, you may want to re-evaluate your recruitment strategy. Pro-bono and skilled volunteers are changing the world of volunteering for the better.  For this month’s tip I’ll tell you how to engage skilled volunteers using the free tools available in your VolutneerMatch account.

Let’s get started.

First things first: think strategically about which skill set your opportunity will target. What are your goals for the volunteers and their work within your organization? Identify the projects they will be working on and intended outcomes. Which skills will be necessary to complete this work? Be sure and incorporate these ideas into your opportunity.

Next you will need to create new content. Posting a new volunteer opportunity is the best way to engage new—and existing—volunteers. Remember to create a straightforward description and include relevant keywords. If you get stuck, reference our best practices to ensure your opportunity is engaging.

Now you’re ready to add some skills to your opportunity. Working with the Taproot Foundation we’ve created an extensive taxonomy of professional skills. To access this tool navigate to the ‘Requirements’ step in the listing flow and click on the box labeled ‘Select Skill’. Hover your cursor over the skills you wish to add and another list—with more specialized options—will appear. To select a skill simply click on the corresponding box. If you do not find the skill you’re looking for you can add it manually by typing into the box labeled ‘Other’.

Do you have skilled volunteer engagement tips of your own? We’d love to hear from you. Share your ideas in the comment section below!