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Getting Results from High-Skills Based Volunteers

In tough economic times marked by cuts in funding, many nonprofits remain in need of technology and business solutions that are beyond their grasp. According to the Community Corps, 40% of the 1.5 million U.S. based nonprofits claim to lack the technology they need to effectively serve their constituents. 

This post will continue our series on human capital and explore how nonprofits can effectively leverage high-skills based volunteers to build their capacity. I recently blogged about the power of limited-term volunteering, including several opportunities where nonprofits can leverage short-term pro-bono human capital to accelerate their mission-driven work. High-skills based volunteering leverages highly specialized skills and talents of individuals to build the capacity and infrastructure of nonprofits. Projects can range from a one-day marathon event to ones that last several months. 

While limited or stretched resources can certainly make volunteer or pro-bono services a desirable way to build organizational capacity, nonprofits often find that getting tangible and usable outcomes from volunteer experiences also remains out of their reach. Managing even basic administrative or clerical volunteers can often become a resource intensive task they don’t in fact have the capacity to undertake.

Some nonprofits won’t even consider pro-bono due to skepticism about what tangible value volunteers can possibly contribute. Others are increasingly not looking just for basic clerical volunteers, but rather for highly skilled professionals who can help them accomplish sophisticated and often complex technology and business goals.  At the same time, a nonprofit’s needs may range from undefined or loosely defined technology wish lists to well defined technology road maps. A nonprofit going into the volunteer experience with adequate preparation can make for a more rewarding experience all around.

With high-skills based needs to meet mission critical goals, the bar is higher but there are steps the organization can take to increase the chances of having a game-changing experience and even getting a competitive edge. Remas, a start-up nonprofit, has largely been built by tech volunteers. Read about their experience and how their technology wish lists became a reality at a high-skills based volunteer event.

Here’s a few resources and tips we have pulled together to facilitate tangible outcomes for nonprofits from high-skills based volunteer opportunities:

  • The Nonprofit Readiness Toolkit -- The purpose of this Toolkit from the Corporation for National and Community Service is to assist nonprofit organizations assess their internal needs and readiness to leverage the expertise of high-skills based human capital (free registration and login required).
  • Making Skills-based Volunteering Work -- Practical tips from New York City based Arts to Grow, a nonprofit that has leveraged over 150 volunteers in 21,500 volunteer hours to support its core work.
  • Pro-Bono Competencies Map -- This great interactive online tool created by the Taproot Foundation provides a catalog of information mapping nonprofit needs to the professional expertise that potentially could be provided through pro-bono service.
  • Making Pro-Bono Work (PDF) -- Both nonprofits and companies can use this great resource, also from the Taproot Foundation, to select the type of high-skills volunteer model best suited to their organization. Includes eight proven models for outcome oriented pro-bono service and case studies to show real-world impact.

Effective high-skills based volunteerism connects available human capital with social-benefit projects so they can bring their passion, energy, and expertise to create tangible value for a nonprofit. At the same time the participating nonprofits must bring something to the table to get the results they need. Pro-bono really does not mean “free” if viewed in the spirit of a solution space where accountability for outcomes is shared.

We hope you find these resources helpful if you are considering engaging high-skills human capital in a volunteer setting. Stay tuned for the next post in this series!

And as always, we would love to hear your thoughts and learn from your experiences:

  • Have you been able to get a tangible outcome from a high-skills based volunteer experience?
  • How was your experience of working with the volunteers?
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