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.

How Volunteering Can Build New Skills

Guest Post by Lucy Adams

Volunteering Can Build SkillsIn today’s society, not everyone has the resources to dedicate to volunteering. Although some don’t like to volunteer, for many, it’s a way of life. Volunteering benefits local and global communities, and can even help you find new friends, learn new skills, and advance your career. The folks at Buzzessay believe volunteering can help you change your course of life, while strengthening your mindset.

Have you ever looked for a new direction in work or life? Volunteering could be the answer.

There are many factors that motivate us to volunteer. It could be an opportunity to develop new skills, or try out a different profession. A great advantage to volunteering is that you can experience a new position — outside of your day job — without incurring many of work’s associated consequences. Go on: try it for yourself and share what you learn.

Taking a breather to volunteer can even help you understand how to work better in your current role. Unlike paid work, volunteer work is linked more heavily to passion and commitment rather than specific experience.

Competitive Advantages to Volunteering

  • Increase your ability to gain new experiences.
  • Increase your ability to adapt to new situations and circumstances.
  • Develop your communication, leadership and interpersonal skills.
  • Get better at planning and prioritizing tasks.
  • Get better at managing your time.

Volunteering gives you a chance to branch out, try different roles and avoid wasting time on dull work in the future. For many, volunteering has already become a new starting point in their careers.

Helping others is one of the best forms of self-development. And your own difficulties will no longer seem as catastrophic, helping you find a way out of many critical situations you might endeavor.

How can volunteer program managers engage more volunteers who are looking to expand their skills?

First off, you need to accurately formulate your request — it should contain a description of the needs of the organization and the work that needs to be done. Here’s what you should include:

  1. Job title. The more detailed and attention-grabbing, the better. Don’t limit to just posting  “Volunteers Needed.” Include specifics of the job, and provide some hooks to catch the attention of potential readers. For example, “Help Low-Income Students Prepare for School!” or “Join Our Marketing ‘Street Team’ to Get the Word out for Non-Profit Theater/Community Center!”
  2. Define clear goals. Give the potential candidate an idea of the job’s purpose. Include a detailed description of how they might participate in the organization, and what some expected outcomes might be. Try to present your description clearly while instilling the candidate’s importance to the role.
  3. Specific activities and indicators of performance. Outline the specific requirements that the volunteer will have to comply with along with efficiency criteria.  If your opportunity is flexible, include that in the description. Flexible opportunities give your volunteers more freedom to volunteer and also shows respect for the volunteer’s time.
  4. Contacts. Include the main contact person’s information. That way, if a volunteer has questions, they know who can help address them. This may be an employee of the division or a special staff unit.

If your opportunity is listed on VolunteerMatch, the prospective volunteer will be able to see the point of contact’s information.

A detailed description will help a volunteer decide whether a job is suitable for them, and if it will help them gain relevant skills. Have insights of your own to add? Share it with us in the comments section below!


Author Bio: Lucy Adams is a professional writer from Buzz Essay. She loves communicating with her readers, and is always within reach.

LinkedIn’s $18.6 Million In-Kind Gift to Help Nonprofits Attract Skilled Volunteers

LinkedIn for Good LinkedIn renews commitment to social sector and the promise of skilled volunteering

In June of 2014, VolunteerMatch announced a game-changing partnership with LinkedIn For Good that automatically reposts every skilled volunteer opportunity created on VolunteerMatch to LinkedIn’s Volunteer Marketplace — and with it the potential to reach LinkedIn’s 400 million members.

This is the promise of the nonprofit sector partnering with the tech sector to take social change to scale.

Everyday VolunteerMatch is now republishing nearly 40,000 skilled volunteer opportunities from tens of thousands of local causes across the country looking for passionate and talented volunteers.

LinkedIn announced the Volunteer Marketplace in 2014 and described it as an extension of LinkedIn doing what it does best — “connecting talent with opportunity at massive scale.” For VolunteerMatch, it has been a high-leverage opportunity to expand the market for skilled volunteering and better serve the 100,000+ nonprofits already using VolunteerMatch to find the volunteers they need.

And the impact goes beyond VolunteerMatch’s nonprofit members. LinkedIn’s Volunteer Marketplace is also working with other exceptional organizations challenging the status quo like Taproot, BoardSource and Catchafire.

Since launch, LinkedIn has become VolunteerMatch’s #1 network partner, engaging nearly a million new volunteers and giving tens of thousands of nonprofits unprecedented access to the volunteer skills they need to advance their mission. It’s matched a wide range of talented professionals with ways to use their experience and skills to help their communities. And it’s brought well-deserved attention to the concept of skills-based volunteering and broadened the concept to include not only consulting and technical skills, but also talent and experience in education and the arts.

How does it work? Let’s look at just one example we recently profiled.

Last year, Mercy Housing posted on VolunteerMatch for a skilled yoga instructor to teach a weekly class to its senior residents. This opportunity was automatically reposted to LinkedIn’s Volunteer Marketplace. Hannah, browsing LinkedIn, found the opportunity, and was immediately interested. She’d grown up with volunteering, but it wasn’t until she found a way to use her specialized skills to give back that she realized how enjoyable and fulfilling volunteering could be.

And Hannah is not alone. Since VolunteerMatch’s partnership with LinkedIn began, we’ve connected more than 100,000 interested volunteers with opportunities to put their talents to good use.

Giving the social sector world-class access to volunteers in a connected world is what VolunteerMatch is all about. We are breaking down barriers to close an engagement gap that frustrates and marginalizes the promise of everyone finding their opportunity to make a difference.

This commitment from LinkedIn for Good provides VolunteerMatch’s nonprofit members with access to the equivalent of $18.6 million dollars worth of free recruiting services, because LinkedIn believes every nonprofit should be able to find the talent and connection they need to succeed.

If you are interested in joining the 10,000,000 LinkedIn members already participating in the program just add the Volunteer & Causes field to your LinkedIn profile and indicate that you are interested in ‘skills-based volunteering’ opportunities.

If you are a nonprofit just make sure all your VolunteerMatch opportunities are tagged by skill and we will do all the rest.

On behalf of all the amazing people and causes we serve, I want to thank the LinkedIn for Good team, and our amazing board member Meg Garlinghouse, for this opportunity to come together to put the power of technology to good use.

Interested in partnering with VolunteerMatch? Find out how.

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.

Pro Bono Week Special: How the California State Library Engages Pro Bono Volunteers

Celebrate Pro Bono Week 2015 with VolunteerMatchStory #1:

When the California State Library began growing its volunteer program, it quickly became clear to Carla Lehn, Library Programs Consultant, that she didn’t have enough time to do everything that needed to be done.

She knew if she could find someone to take a few responsibilities off her plate, then together they could go so much further. So, she created a position description for Assistant Volunteer Coordinator and posted it on VolunteerMatch.

Kellie Dawson was looking for something to get her out of the house a bit that fit her skills, background and interests when she came across Carla’s listing. Voila! Kellie has since rolled out two majors shifts in process for the CA State Library volunteer program, and says, “I will not give this position up as long as it’s there for me.”

Story #2:

When the 30th anniversary of the CA State Library’s literacy program approached, Carla realized she didn’t have the expertise or resources to run a statewide PR campaign around this event.

Dan Dement was in the process of starting his own PR agency, and he knows that “Volunteering is good career karma.” And the issue of literacy struck a chord with him. “It was a wonderful experience all the way through,” reflects Dan on this pro bono project.

Story #3:

Carla was looking for someone to help her up her social media game for the CA State Library’s literacy program, in order to find volunteers and raise awareness for the cause.

Leila Ertel has a background in social media marketing, but when she moved to Sacramento and switched jobs, this was no longer a part of her job. So, by volunteering with CA State Library, she is still able to use those skills. A win-win!

Why are we sharing these stories today?

Celebrate Pro Bono Week 2015 with VolunteerMatch!It’s Pro Bono Week 2015! 

Pro bono a special form of volunteering where people use their professional career skills for a good cause, and Pro Bono Week is a global campaign to celebrate and encourage these volunteer activities.

Help us celebrate this week:

Does your organization engage pro bono volunteers? Share your story in the comments below!