The incredible thing about giving is just how much you get in return – even when you’re not expecting it.
That was one of the takeaways from an afternoon of training a few of us from VolunteerMatch recently conducted at San Francisco Public Library’s main branch, when what was originally a fun challenge for our readers became an important lesson in the power of skilled volunteering.
This story begins earlier this year. As VolunteerMatch prepared to pass a key milestone in our work to make it easier for good people and good causes to connect – our 6 millionth volunteer connection – we bet readers of Engaging Volunteers that they couldn’t guess when we’d hit the mark. To put our money where our mouth is, we promised to let the closest guesser do something special: they could tell the VolunteerMatch team where to do our next employee volunteer outing.
What we came up with was VolunteerMatch’s first ever skilled group employee volunteer outing. Working closely with volunteer program coordinator Kai Forsley and the Volunteer Program at the San Francisco Public Library, myself, Shari Ilsen and Greg Baldwin put together a free hour-long training on using Linkedin to find a job.
The event took place at the city’s popular main branch and was attended by around 15 members of our San Francisco community. We covered how to create an account, set up a profile, network with other professionals, and take a strategic approach to your job search.
Don’t get me wrong: All three of us have presented in the past to much larger audiences. But this was on a topic that had nothing to do with VolunteerMatch and everything to do with the unique needs of the audience served by SF’s library. In short: it was skilled volunteering to support the mission of a local organization.
The hour flew by and we stayed late with the audience to answer questions. Afterwards, as Greg, Shari and I headed back to our office, we talked about how much we enjoyed being able to do what we love — helping people — using the skills we already had. And how great it felt knowing that we were also learning how to talk and present on something we’d never shared with an audience before.
One thing that kept coming up in our discussions was that this was how many other members of the VolunteerMatch team could benefit from getting involved in delivering trainings like this. We all have the ability to put ideas into play for a willing audience. And we can all stand to get better at how we deliver that information.
Laughing, we talked about how great it would be to move beyond the types of unskilled but beneficial volunteering we’d done as groups before (think: fun park clean ups, social service facility rehabs, environmental restorations, etc.). What if VolunteerMatch made it a point to help our team to find skilled roles we could use to give back and also augment our own professional abilities?
Fast forward to today. Shari has stepped forward and has worked with Kai and the Volunteer Program set up monthly training sessions on a variety of topics through the next year. Different members of the team will be invited to take part, meaning we can rotate more people through this exciting opportunity. And of course more of us will be able to help the library fulfill its mission while also strengthening our own presentation skills.
Today we just passed 6.5 million volunteer connections — and we’re moving to the next big landmark faster than ever. What’s that, you ask: Will we have another contest to let the crowd determine where we’ll volunteer? Sounds like a great idea to me!
How about you? Do you volunteer your skills through a program set up by your employer? What have you learned? Share your experiences here.
Robert led VolunteerMatch's communications until 2014 and is editor of Volunteer Engagement 2.0. Today he lives in Kathmandu, Nepal, where he works with VSO, the leading INGO involving volunteers in the fight against poverty.