Strategic Volunteering-Utilizing Professional Skills for Good!

AKA – Skills Based Volunteering

As I wrote in a previous post, with all the downsizing going on, volunteering is up and it’s good news for non-profits. But let’s think about all these new volunteers and the professional skills they bring with them. While filling traditional volunteer slots reading to children, talking with seniors, painting schools or stuffing envelopes is needed and rewarding “work”, think about their professional skills and how they can help you move your mission forward.

I helped organize a networking breakfast for professional women in transition. The topic of volunteering came up as a way to spend time and network while looking for work. But as we talked at the breakfast, I shared the thought about strategic volunteering.

There are two sides to this opportunity:

  • A volunteer needs to contact the right person at a non-profit and focus on their professional skills. For example if they are marketing specialists, emailing the Development Director or Communications Manager would be a good place to start beyond the lists of volunteering activities listed on the website.
  • The organization needs to be open to this assistance and determine if they can manage volunteer time and develop a plan that is mutually beneficial. This is the quintessential, “It’s easier to do it myself than explain it someone else” argument. But let’s think about the “other” work we can get done if we trust and work with a skilled volunteer willing to donate their time. Shift that paradigm.

Some non-profits don’t have the budget for full time staff to manage or help with marketing, social media, executive coaching, professional development, website and even other volunteers. There are probably other areas a non-profit can use help as well.

As a potential volunteer, think strategically about:

  • What skills do you think the organization needs?
    • How can you fill that gap?
    • What’s your learning curve?
    • How much time are you going to require of the staff person managing your work?
      • Think project work v. full time gig
    • Are you willing to work with the organization staff to give them not only what they need, but what they want?
  • How much time can you give?
  • What work can you do at home and at the office?
  • If you want/need access to the internet or a phone while at the office so you can respond on a timely basis to potential employment opportunities – say so
  • Is this a task you can add to your resume?
  • Ask if the organization is willing to be a reference or write a letter of recommendation at the conclusion of the work or project?
  • What is your PAR statement as a result of your volunteer time?
    • Problem you identified (challenge or gap)
    • Action you took
    • Result of the work
  • Think of work and projects that you can add to your resume during the time you have been looking for work. How will you communicate your volunteer time and projects to prospective employers?

 As the organization think about:

  •  Where are the gaps in your work plan that need skilled staff or volunteers?
  • Talk with staff about work that is lower on the priority list or has been on a wish list for a long time, but there was has not been enough time or people to get it done. This is not a weakness, it is reality – let a skilled volunteer help! Shift the paradigm. Be grateful and welcoming!

    • Do not create busy work – these are volunteers who have a worked in their field of expertise.
    • Do you, can you, will you be able to manage the volunteer? Who will be responsible?
    • Do you have space for them to work? 
    • What are the expectations? Are they realistic?
    • Is an application process useful or just time consuming? What screening process would be most helpful to everyone?
  • How will you thank and recognize the volunteer?
    • During the project and at the conclusion?
    • Are you willing to be a reference and write a letter of recommendation?
  • Can you identify these opportunities and post them on your website along with other volunteer tasks?

    I would be remiss if I did not mention the Taproot Foundation. They are all about skills based volunteers. In their process, non-profits apply to Taproot for a service grant in the areas of marketing, strategic planning, information technology, leadership and human resources. Taproot screens all the grant proposals and stays involved through the project management. Volunteers with these skills apply to be a part of Taproot. When the grants are awarded, Taproot has assembled a volunteer team to work on the project. Expectations have been established and agreed upon. They have a wonderful portfolio of work.

    I hope you found this post useful. Please share your volunteer management experiences so we can learn from one another!

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