4 Easy and Creative Ideas for Engaging Employees in Skilled Volunteering

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, an industry and, of course, an inspiration for greater impact.

Easy and creative ideas for engaging employees in skilled volunteering.

A Making Music Matters volunteer and student prepare for a talent show. What skills do your employees have to give?

Now that connecting with skilled volunteering opportunities just became even easier for you and your employees, and now that there are tools out there, like those from VolunteerMatch Solutions, to help you manage and track skilled volunteer activities within your company, you may only have one more question:

How do you get your employees excited about skilled volunteering?



First step is to think like them – what sorts of opportunities are they really looking for? Here are some ideas for skilled volunteering projects that will be sure to jazz up large chunks of your employee population – no matter what strange and unusual skills they may have developed.

Pro Bono Programs

There is always the option to build or improve on a formal pro bono program at your company. Even within a program like this, there are ways to make things more exciting. For example, take a cue from Discovery Communications and their annual Discovery Impact: Creating Change pro bono marathon.

And with tools like YourMatch and MobileMatch to help you organize and track large-scale events like marathons, hackathons and days/weeks/months of service, it will be easy to aggregate and showcase the impact of these programs both internally and externally.

Focus on Other Skills

Just because your engineers spend their days coding doesn’t mean they don’t have other useful skills. For example, they might actually be great writers, or excellent project managers. At VolunteerMatch, several of our staff members volunteer at the San Francisco Public Library each month teaching a free workshop about using LinkedIn for job searching and career development.

Combine Skilled Volunteering with “Relaxing Time”

Volunteering doesn’t have to be all work and no play, and skilled volunteering doesn’t have to be all professional skills, either. Form a knitting club during breaks and lunch to knit sweaters for shelters or animals. Connect employees with groups like 826 or Girls on the Run so they can donate non-professional, “fun” skills (and be sure to suggest they use their Volunteer Time Off!)

Ask Your Employees!

With tools like VolunteerMatch’s Opportunity Builder, employees can suggest their own volunteer projects for your approval. So spread the word that you’re looking for skilled volunteering ideas. I bet the suggestions will come pouring in, which will only make your job easier and more fun…

What are some fun, creative ways you’ve engaged employees in skilled volunteering? Share in the comments below!

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The Global, Cross-Sector Potential of a Future with Skills-Based Volunteering

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, an industry and, of course, an inspiration for greater impact.

The Global, Cross-Sector Potential of a Future with Skills-Based VolunteeringDuring my five years at VolunteerMatch, skills-based volunteering (SBV) has become firmly embedded in the world of corporate volunteerism and CSR. Groups like Taproot, PYXERA Global and A Billion+ Change have helped lead the charge, and events like the Conference on Volunteering and Service devote sessions to skills-based and pro bono volunteering, along with sessions on corporate-nonprofit partnerships viewed through the skills lens.

Of course, VolunteerMatch has always been a place for nonprofits to post, and individuals to find, skilled volunteering opportunities. We’ve produced a number of webinars and best practice blog posts on the topic over the years, and collaborated with Microsoft and Taproot on a nonprofit skills taxonomy which helps our partners find the skilled help they need.

All of this is great news, as SBV benefits corporations, employees, nonprofits, and ultimately our communities and world at large. It provides employees with a sense of pride – in themselves, their skills, and the company. This leads to higher morale, retention, and professional development on the job front, and a greater sense of overall purpose.

SBV provides companies with employees who are more engaged, aids in recruiting top talent who want a chance to be creative and challenged, and encourages team-building and cross-functional projects. It also gives companies a larger reach in the community in a more strategic and impactful way, while furthering brand reputation and local relationships. Finally, it provides nonprofits with resources they critically need to be become sustainable, expand their reach, and allow them to do the work they’re best prepared to execute on.

The march is on, and with the recently announced partnership between LinkedIn and VolunteerMatch, I think we’re ready for another leap. Here’s why:

I’ve worked with dozens of companies and their employee engagement programs (and our team here has worked with over 200), and while there are a number of high flying, SBV-focused companies like Morgan Stanley, Discovery, Netsuite and Charles Schwab, there are many more that don’t have a formalized SBV program. There are even some that don’t have any at all (at least to the program coordinator’s knowledge).

Despite all of the talk about SBV stressing the benefits above, I’m not sure that the industry has found a way to make engaging employees in SBV actionable and scalable. Creating various models of SBV, from hackathons to short-term engagements to overseas excursions, takes significant investment from a company, let alone from nonprofits which need to be able to support such volunteering and partnerships.

This new partnership, however, changes the equation. So allow me to gaze into the future and make some predictions about SBV along the nonprofit, employee, and corporate fronts, predicting what might happen and what needs to happen in the process of growing this model.

The Nonprofit Future with Skills-Based Volunteering

Knowing that they can reach hundreds of millions of professionals on LinkedIn (along with millions of annual visitors to VolunteerMatch), our nonprofit partners will give more thought to using skilled volunteers, and will take advantage of our project listing flow’s ability to select and highlight skills through the aforementioned taxonomy.

But when I say ‘thought’, I mean ideally some serious reevaluation and reflection. Think about this: what if a nonprofit dreams its biggest dreams and can have all the skilled help it needs? What if there were more allies out there than they imagine – what would they do? Could they save some money in the budget by allocating time to committed, long-term volunteers rather than dollars that would otherwise go to more expensive vendors or contractors? Can they take on new challenges in their community they wouldn’t be able to have done previously due to a lack of skills/budget/resources? In other words, can SBV make nonprofits more fiscally efficient and creative, while also having a bigger impact?

During this process, we’ll also need to see nonprofits considering their ability to manage skilled volunteers and evaluate whether they have the capacity to spend the necessary time scoping and implementing a project plan. They will need to learn more about SBV, more about how corporations works – to take a more proactive role in order to create a deeper kind of relationship than traditional, one-off volunteering. This will pay off big. Not only can they receive help on the programmatic side, but guess what: volunteers are more than 10X as likely to become donors, to tell their network about the nonprofit’s cause, and to open a channel to corporate grants, dollars for doers, and matching gifts.

The Employee Future with Skills-Based Volunteering

On the employee front, more nonprofits posting SBV projects means greater variety. Projects will become not only easier to find, but will exist on a spectrum of levels of engagement to match an employee’s schedule and interests. It should be noted that skills don’t need to match the most common ones talked about (finance, marketing, project management, etc.), but could include interpersonal or creative skills that may not be directly related to their jobs, but come out naturally in their personalities or are waiting to be discovered if the right post comes along.

These postings will also let them try something new, to get out of a rut, to grow and be creative. And here’s a quiz: guess which employee population has some skills, but could stand to expand them with experience, and who generally prioritize using said skills to do good in the world? Yes, it’s our industry’s obligatory Millennial plug, a population ripe for engaging with SBV along a spectrum.

Most important when thinking about this from the employee side is the connection to the community, and parts of it they may not be aware of. They can really see the difficulty of the issues nonprofits deal with, and gain a better sense of place and understanding. This depth of learning doesn’t come as easily with short, traditional volunteering projects, plus the tangible difference they make is significantly larger and longer lasting. Once employees see that, it could inspire them to do even more. So with an increase in SBV availability, I think we’re also in store for a concurrent rise in empathy and engagement.

The Company Future with Skills-Based Volunteering

On the company front, SBV projects will begin to appear more frequently in VolunteerMatch portals and on the Web in general. So, if the company doesn’t have the resources to structure a formal SBV program, they can point employees to find them on their own knowing that such activities lead to a happier, more engaged workforce.

Companies will be able to track and report on employees who sign up for SBV, and based on those reports, perhaps start to structure a program that fits employees’ interests, leading to a formal SBV program. They’ll take better note of metrics in terms of dollar values, knowing that SBV leads to a greater SROI than traditional volunteering.

I can also see companies adding a field to their employee profile/registration page on VolunteerMatch to collect skills from employees, to see what they can and want to do. Companies can also take the initiative to upload a set of general parent skills based on the employees’ department (IT, Marketing, HR, Accounting) and, in a sense, do some reverse matching, and send out customized emails to different types of employees pointing them to specific search results.

We’ll soon see a rise in companies considering the following questions: What skills do your employees have? How much time do you have to manage them and work with the nonprofit? Do you have buy in from senior staff in both places? Should you have PTO available for this work? Can you brand your SBV program (always a good idea!)? If you currently have nonprofit grantees, should you build something into the contract to have your grantee create skilled volunteering opportunities for your employees? Can you pair senior and junior staff members on a project, and/or work to match an employee with their counterpart at the nonprofit?

And, the juiciest question for me: what can your company learn from listening to and working with nonprofits, the people on the ground – perhaps different business practices, or money saving ideas?

In any event, companies should keep in mind that it’s always smart to start small and build up the program organically – the last thing we want to do is force any kind of volunteering, especially SBV, down employees’ throats, let alone the throats of nonprofits. SBV is one part of a portfolio, and can be a lot of fun (hackathons, competitions, marathons…) as well as providing significant value. Remain flexible and remember that some employees may even want a change of pace when it comes to their volunteering and want to do something that has nothing to do with their day jobs.

In conclusion: SBV has the potential to change the typical corporate-nonprofit dynamic, because the relationship is much deeper than traditional volunteering. Individuals really get to know one another and their challenges through this investment, and can exchange ideas and see the talents on both sides. After all, we’re all part of the same community.

We’re moving from a one-way to a two-way street of mutual learning, and knowing that your company is leveraging all it can to contribute helps answer the “why?” of your employee volunteer program, and provides the stories and heart to what you’re doing.

I’m looking forward to the next five years and am excited to see all of the ways SBV develops, thrives, and changes all of our lives for the better.

How is your company leveraging skills-based volunteering to create a better future? Tell us about it!

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Meeting the Challenges of Global Employee Volunteerism

Meeting the Challenges of Global Employee VolunteerismThe trend toward taking employee volunteer programs global has been growing for years. And as we announced in April, VolunteerMatch is going global as well, piloting its employee engagement solutions outside the U.S. for the first time. The initiative will begin in the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia and we are evaluating additional countries and regions.

As part of VolunteerMatch’s commitment to serve our clients with overseas locations, we were pleased to sponsor LBG Associates’ research on global employee engagement. For the report, “Global Employee Engagement: Challenges and Solutions,” LBG Associates interviewed 36 multinational corporations about the issues they encountered taking their programs overseas and the solutions that have worked for them.

LBG Associates determined that the three biggest challenges global companies face are:

  • Managing a global employee engagement program
  • Vetting non-governmental organizations (NGOs) outside the home country
  • Paying small, employee-directed grants

The report also identified challenges and solutions that are unique to specific employee engagement programs, such as volunteerism, workplace giving, Matching Gifts and Dollar for Doers programs.

With respect to volunteerism, one of the many challenges highlighted was the difficulty companies have finding appropriate NGOs to provide volunteer opportunities for employees. Although local employees can provide insight into different potential partners, the company still has to vet an NGO to make sure it is what it claims to be.

A potential solution, according to the report, is to use third parties like VolunteerMatch to source volunteer projects. To quote the report, “Third parties can be extremely useful, as they likely know the community, the issues and the nonprofits better than the company. They aren’t driven by personal passions, family relationships, political leanings or other factors that can skew employee-sourced volunteer projects.”

Another important point from the research is that companies have to make sure that NGOs are actually ready to host volunteers. In some countries, nonprofits are unfamiliar with the concept of employee volunteers and don’t understand what volunteers can do for them. The report has a handy checklist to assess NGO readiness.

The highlights of the report will be presented at a webinar on July 16, 2014 at 1 PM Eastern.

You can register for the webinar or get the full report at www.lbg-associates.com or by calling LBG Associates at 203-325-3154.

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How Influencer Marketing Can Strengthen Your Employee Volunteer Program

How Influencer Marketing can strengthen your employee volunteer program.Sometimes, the job of an employee volunteer manager can feel daunting. You’re a small team, challenged with a huge goal: get everyone in your company excited about the employee volunteer program (EVP). Sometimes you have executive support to get this message out, but more often you just have your own team’s resources. So how do you continue to grow your program?

VolunteerMatch works with more than 150 companies, so we’ve seen many of you take on this challenge in different ways. One trick we’ve learned through our 13+ years of experience in CSR is targeted, smart communications. It all boils down to this: find your program’s influencers.

There is a well accepted marketing theory focused on influencer marketing – the idea is that to sell products, businesses strive to find, engage and learn from their influencers. These influencers are “wavemakers” and, according to Traackr, “are the most effective partners for sharing your messages and driving business your way.” This same theory can help spread the word of your employee volunteer program internally.

How Can Influencers Help?

It’s all about finding who will evangelize your program. These influencers can have two large impacts on your EVP: 1) They can be advocates, and help to spread the word of your program across your company. 2) They can propel and change your program. Influencers are usually trendsetters, which means they are a great learning tool for you to adjust your program or communications.

Who are They?

The biggest hurdle to influencer marketing is finding the right influencers. As Traackr points out, “to create or raise awareness, you need to discover who has the greatest ability to support your messages and relay your news to the right audience.” – So how do you identify these wavemakers?

Our research has shown that most companies have committees and champions to help manage their programs at local offices. Many of our clients have recruited champions to act as local influencers and plan projects: for instance, Prometheus recruits PORCH Leaders to engage each property in volunteering, and UnitedHealth Group developed a broad network of volunteer councils to champion their strategic direction.

Strategies to identify influencers within your company who can help strengthen your employee volunteer program.Champions are a great example of influencers, even if that may not be their core purpose. They are a great baseline to begin to grow your influencer strategy. To take your influencer tactic to the next level, you’ll have to do some research to find out who internally influences company culture and decisions. They can be difficult to find, as they are not often the usual suspects.

Start with what you already know: write down the top 50 people or groups who you feel influence the direction of your company. These may be senior executives, but they may be “groundfloor” wavemakers. They may be existing volunteer champions, or they may be someone who has never volunteered with your company. Do some initial research, using tools like social media to see who is active within your company.

Then, broaden your research by talking to others – have a few of your colleagues repeat the exercise of writing down their top influencers. Try to get coworkers from different locations, departments or executive levels to see where influence differs. Talk to decision makers across the company and ask who influences their direction.

You’ll end up with a list of influencers, many of whom may or may not know much about the volunteer program. Take this list and pick 2-3 top influencers to start with based on their level of connection or participation in volunteering/philanthropy and the potential impact on groups that you especially want to target.

Increasing Trust and Buy-In

Now that your influencers are identified, find a way to connect directly with your those at the top. You’ll want to personalize your message – find what matters to them and get them “hooked” on your EVP. Maybe this is a cause they care about, or an activity that matches their skills.

Once an influencer has given your program their “seal of approval,” you’ll see trust in your program grow gradually. Start small – build a volunteer project and see if your influencer can spread the word. Continue to nurture your influencer relationship and let it grow. Eventually, you won’t have to spend as much time trying to engage employees, as your influencers have already helped communicate your message.

Learning From Your Influencers

Influencers can also be a great tool to test your message. As the marketing firm OpenView points out, “More often than not, your influencers are on the pulse of trends within your industry.” Think of them as your focus group for program direction and communications.

Influencers can make your job easier – try it out and let us know how it goes!

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How U.S. Bank Found a Creative Way to Motivate Employee Volunteers

Guest post by Kenna Poppler, U.S. Bank Foundation

How U.S. Bank found a creative way to motivate employee volunteers.At U.S. Bank, we have a strong base of volunteers. While they are all committed to their causes, and many volunteer regularly, they don’t always remember to record their hours on U.S. Bank Volunteers/VolunteerMatch.

Recently, funds became available in our headquarters market and we decided it was a great opportunity to meet three of our goals at once: reward our employees, provide funding to community organizations to help them continue their good works, and get more volunteer hours logged to show how committed U.S. Bank Volunteers truly are!

To accomplish these goals, we are making five $500 contributions to eligible Twin Cities nonprofits where our employees volunteer. All our employees need to do is make sure they’ve recorded at least one hour of their 2013 volunteer time. Each employee who records time will be entered into a drawing to win a $500 contribution for the organization where they volunteer.

To kick off the contest, we simply sent an email to all employees in the Twin Cities. We are anxiously awaiting the prize drawing and the opportunity to recognize both our employees and our nonprofit partners!

Does your company motivate employee volunteers in creative ways? Share with us below!

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ADT Shows They Care On Their First Annual Day of Service

VolunteerMatch and ADT have worked together to lend a helping hand. On August 17, 2013  ADT launched their first annual day of service as part of their employee volunteer program ADT Always Cares.

Out of the 50 events ADT employees participated in, Florida employees volunteered at SOS Children’s Village near the ADT headquarters to help clean up homes and renovate the neighborhood landscape. Many other employees participated in other events from a beach clean up in Jacksonville, FL to delievering food in Knoxville, TN.

Check out the photo slideshow below to see the work Florida ADT employees did for SOS Children’s Village:

SOS is an organization that has created a foster care neighborhood where children can be a part of a stable family environment. Siblings that are often separated in the system are kept together in their neighborhood. SOS also offers many resources from tutoring to counseling to help these children succeed in life. ADT was able to help this organization by keeping their neighborhood looking great.

ADT used the VolunteerMatch tool to help rally their troops and provide them with numerous opportunities to get out there and do some good. Throughout the next 24 months ADT plans to have every one of their 16,500 employees engaged in volunteering.

Congratulations to ADT for their commitment to service and hard work!

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2013 VolunteerMatch Client Summit Insights: Scaling to New Audiences

At the 2013 VolunteerMatch Client Summit in New York City we welcomed a handful of experts and thought leaders in the fields of CSR and employee engagement to hold “Best Practice Café” sessions with our client attendees. Stay tuned as we share the major themes and knowledge shared during these discussions.

Casey Brennan, Chris Gebhardt and Vicky Hush speaking at the 2013 VolunteerMatch Client Summit


Scaling to New Audiences
Chris Gebhardt, Participant Media
Vicky Hush, VolunteerMatch
Casey Brennan, FleishmanHillard

Summary of Session

Today, CSR programs are integrated across audiences of all types. There is no longer a reason to focus on just one set of stakeholders, because as companies become more integrated and transparent, CSR programs must follow suit. For example:

  • National to global: When your company goes global, your program must keep pace and grow, too.
  • Employee to consumer: It is no longer enough to have a strong internal program – customers want to be involved, too.
  • Industry influencers to main-stream consumers: As a program becomes more strategic, there is an opportunity to go beyond the industry mucky-mucks to focus on your core consumers – they want to know what you’re doing, too.
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