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, Engaging Volunteers, for the same topic from the perspective of nonprofit volunteer managers.
By Sasha Bechtler-Levin
Companies are frequently likened to machines–departments chugging away in happy synchrony like a well-oiled machine. It’s easy to see why this analogy exists. It works most of the time, and it helps us to emphasize company necessities like efficiency and functionality. When we want to shift that focus towards the overall health of a company, however, we are better served by a more humanized approach. We can borrow from Plato’s Republic, when Socrates (who explores what it means for a man to be virtuous by meditating on what it takes for a society to be virtuous) by thinking of a company as a living being. By treating the whole as if it were one of its parts, we can scale up factors of individual health to those of company health.
Within our new analogy, we can reflect on how a person remains healthy. There is of course widespread disagreement over what constitutes health and how we achieve it, but one of the few common threads is that beyond childhood, we must care for ourselves. So, self-care is vital for the person, and by extension, is vital for the company. What, then, is the corporate equivalent of getting plenty of sleep, eating your veggies, and maintaining a constructive mindset? I suggest skills-based volunteering as a holistic approach to corporate health.
As we’ve discussed previously, we know that it’s increasingly important to employees that their work be meaningful and in support of a company that also cares about positive impact. The classic approach of corporate social responsibility (CSR) program as a way of offsetting regular work activity to make a meaningful impact is a good start, but for your best results, we suggest adding some volunteer work that is integrated with your employees’ daily projects by allowing workers to use their skills to volunteer. This can bolster your existing CSR program by lessening the gap between daily work and CSR work for your employees, making your employee volunteer programming feel like less of a gear change and more of an organic pivot.
Positive side-effects may include:
- Making your company stand out: More and more, companies who exhibit commitment to self-improvement and community improvement are becoming standouts. More than just a trendy way to market your company (though we do <3 marketing), an improved CSR program brings lasting effects for your company as a whole the same way self-care brings lasting health effects for you as an individual.
- Increased accountability: Altering your company’s environment means that incoming generations of employees will expect this kind of work environment and company attitude. They, in turn, will be prepared and excited to uphold those values.
- Attracting new hires: Alongside other factors that go into a job hunt, work environment and impactful company volunteerism are important factors for job-seeking millennials. A strong, integrative CSR program shouts, “Look how fun this company is! Professionals who also care?!”
- A more productive company: An integrative CSR program that harnesses employee skills leads to happier employees and fosters an increased appreciation for the company. Employees who love their company are more motivated to work hard for it and are more efficient as a result.
- Healthier office culture: With skills-based volunteering, your employees are still being challenged while doing meaningful work, so they’re likely to feel a greater sense of community.
- Stronger Employees: Your employees will also improve at what they do when they are asked to put their skill to use in different ways; this kind of thinking outside their usual box also has the power to shake them from a rut.
Convinced? Get Started.
Given that skills-based volunteering requires the formation of a partnership with an organization whose needs match your skills, the best way to begin is to ask lots of questions. Ask many questions, ask strategic questions, and keep asking questions.
What field does your company and its employees specialize in?
What are the most frequently-used skills in your company?
What dimension of those skills could use improvement?
Ask your employees:
What skills are they great at but don’t get to exercise too often- or ever -at work?
What volunteer opportunities have they had in the past that were most fulfilling?
What would their ideal volunteering experience look like?
What would the job description for their ideal volunteering experience look like?
Ask your (potential) nonprofit partner:
What do you need that you don’t have?
How can we help you?
What are your greatest hesitations in partnering with us?
What are your greatest hopes in partnering with us?
What does your traits would your ideal volunteer possess?
It’s important to note that these conversations should all happen independently of one another–they collectively represent your research phase. This is vital because you want to forge a partnership that truly aligns with both sides’ expectations and needs. And you have to know yourself first so that as you’re beginning a relationship with a potential partner, you can look for signs of fit. This will be more efficient than relying on a “know it when you see it” strategy for finding a solid partner.
Once you’ve done your self-evaluation, it’s time to connect with the needs of your community!
Solutions by VolunteerMatch is a great way of making those connections, as our tools are built around this philosophy of mutually-beneficial partnership building, and those Goldilocks-approved perfect fits are what we live for. While there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for how to grow a great skills-based volunteering program, starting with the above questions will fuel the conversations you need to build the sturdy foundation that will support your new and improved skills-based programming.
Even if finding an ideal partner or partners takes time, the journey itself towards that partnership presents tremendous opportunities for growth. Shifting towards this kind of program requires you to know what your employees have to offer, communicate that capacity, and have a conversation with nonprofits to see if they have a need for those kinds of skills. These kinds of conversations mark the happy place of nonprofit–corporate collaboration that makes our collective spine here at VolunteerMatch, and hopefully yours too, 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.
Image #1 Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/visitfingerlakes/
Image #2 Source: http://wp.digischool.nl/grieks/