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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