One of the fastest-growing corporate citizenship programs is skills-based volunteering—in which a team of corporate employees works for an extended period to help a nonprofit solve a complex operational problem. The benefits of the program for both parties are clear, but it’s also tougher to implement than many think.
—The Promise of Skills-Based Volunteering, Stanford Social Innovation Review.
In fact, some nonprofits hesitate to partner with corporations offering skills-based volunteers. Unfortunately, negative experiences logically create hesitancy.
“A crisis provides an opportunity to break down old stereotypes and form real partnerships and conversations. Not so much what do we need from each other but rather what do we want to do together? What are the changes we want to make?”—Danielle Holly, CEO, Common Impact.
Skills-based volunteering makes a difference, yet there are often barriers to creating these essential alliances. These issues are at the forefront of our work at Revere Software. Our software has the flexibility to connect your employees with nonprofits through both team projects and one-to-one meetings.
What common problems do nonprofits face in implementing skills-based volunteering programs?
In my work at Revere Software, I experience the challenges to both the companies wanting to help and the nonprofits eager for assistance.
Notably, we’re looking at larger projects requiring weeks or months to implement on the team-based models. These are often complex projects that need strategic planning and long-term management.
Project complexity is often the crux of the issue. Traditionally, the nonprofit requests funding, often as grants, from the corporation or trust. As long as the requirements are met, there isn’t as much ongoing communication needed – often times, it’s monthly, quarterly or even annual status reports and check-ins.
But for a skills-based partnership between employee volunteers and nonprofits to work well, they need a closer relationship. Often, the nonprofit staff is overworked and unfamiliar with technical documentation requirements and the definitions of scope and deliverables. As a result, it’s easy for their team to feel overwhelmed and wonder if working with skills-based volunteers will be worth the trouble.
How can the partners work together smoothly?
In my years of experience at Revere Software, I’ve had the chance to see some of the issues that come up as volunteers and nonprofits work together.
As a corporation or an intermediary organization, we can help by:
● Welcoming questions from interested nonprofits.
● Assuring them, we’re ready to help with technical questions and assessing project requirements.
● Reducing their fear of asking volunteer experts for help by being as approachable as possible.
● Encouraging nonprofits and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to use 1:1 meetings with the employee volunteers to ask questions and clarify needs.
● Pointing out the value of these 1:1 meetings to the nonprofit before submission of any project application.
Above all, we want to promote clear, concise communication between all parties. Clarifying the expectations, proposed deliverables, and time commitment before the project begins is the best way to create a beneficial experience for both the nonprofit and the volunteer employees.
Many of us realize there are gaps between the social innovation being accomplished and the needs of global nonprofits. It must become simpler to connect and communicate.
Businesses need to determine the factors to assess, including measurable outcomes and project tracking. Nonprofits often need help navigating projects, which requires flexibility. Results can be hard to measure, and an experienced third-party intermediary can be valuable to help expedite the process.
Training the skills-based volunteers on how to work within the frameworks of nonprofits improves the experience, too. I recommend this article, The 8 Essential Skills of Volunteer Leaders, for some practical steps to take.
“Volunteer leaders who are expected to deliver meaningful and impactful programming need structured guidance and support. With it, they are motivated and empowered. Without it, they are unclear and feel undervalued.”—Angela Parker, Co-founder and CEO Realized Worth.
Corporate social responsibility programs are about more than image and public perception.
Successful implementation of skills-based volunteering programs is rewarding. In addition, observing the results of using tech for good and the power of pro bono consulting is exciting.
Yes, there will be challenges, but Revere Software can help solve humanity’s most pressing problems through engaged employees’ cooperation with worthwhile nonprofit and NGO projects around the globe.