How to make the most of skilled volunteering: a guide for charities

Are you working for a private sector company? Check out our guide to skilled volunteering for volunteers here.

What is skilled volunteering?

Skilled volunteering is working with volunteers using their professional skills to help you with a strategic or operational challenge.

This can be split up into two main areas:

  • Skill sharing is working with a volunteer who either uses their experience of a particular job or their general professional competencies to help you. This could include an HR Manager advising you on your HR policies, or helping you to improve your pitching skills thanks to their experience of giving presentations.
  • Pro bono is when the volunteer performs a task for free that a client would normally pay them to complete. This could include a lawyer helping you to draw up a contract, or an accountant helping you with your pay roll.

If properly executed, it’s a highly effective and efficient form of support that can have an exponential impact on your organisation for years to come.

This type of volunteering is genuinely a win-win-win. For you, a key issue is tackled, meaning greater efficiency indefinitely, which will open up time and resources for focusing on service delivery. For the employee volunteer, the satisfaction levels are likely to be high given the immediate and lasting impact. It also helps with professional learning and development – 91% of Fortune 500 HR Managers think volunteering improves business and leadership skills (Source:Deloitte). For the employee’s company, a motivated and productive employee with improved skills and experience is obviously desirable.

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Here are our tips on how to make the most of your skilled volunteering experience:

1. Identifying areas of need

There might be an idea that immediately that jumps to mind, but it’s also worth having a more comprehensive review of your organisation at this stage to establish where some advice and support would have the greatest impact. Speak to your colleagues and gather honest feedback about areas where you need to develop knowledge or improve efficiency.

Areas to consider could include:

Business planning, overall strategy, finance, accounting, legal & compliance, marketing & branding, social media, HR, PR & communications, internal communications, impact reporting, data management, IT infrastructure, website development, design, sales & business development, etc.

Essentially, you could consider any back-end issue that might be stopping you give enough time and attention to your front-line delivery.

Once you’ve got a clearer picture of your high level strengths and weaknesses, you can start drilling down further and developing finite, specific, and manageable focus areas within them. Often, choosing a a topic where you understand the basics but need help to improve is ideal. That means you don’t have to waste valuable time with your volunteers going over simple stuff and can really get into the meaty bits while you’ve got access to those skills and experiences.

2. Seeking out the right support

Don’t rush into a relationship that is going to take a lot of time and resource to manage but not provide impactful support. Pro bono support can be valuable enough in and of itself that there’s no need to only try to work with companies that might be able to partner with you in other ways as well. Take the support at face value and don’t compromise on the quality for hypothetical longer-term support.

If you’re a small organisation then think about working with a small business – there will be less hoops to jump through and they’re likely to understand the pressures of trying to do a lot with not very much.

Take a look at our guide to approaching companies for support for a few more ideas.

There are also plenty of resources to help you find the support you need. Here are just a few suggestions:

And of course our very own thirdbridge network!

3. Preparing for your time together

At this stage you should be aware of the skills and experiences your volunteers have. That means you can start turning your ideas into actual project plans. Make sure that you pick something with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Don’t just ask for ‘help with our website’ – work out exactly what it is you want to tackle, and formulate a specific plan for what you want to get out of the session. Make sure you have a structure in place to follow during the discussion.

4. During your time together

As well as following the structure you planned out in advance, here are our other tips:

  • Be as honest and open as possible. There’s no point in sugar-coating your situation, or the advice you get won’t get to the bottom of your issues.
  • If something isn’t clear, then say so. Your time together is limited and you won’t get the most benefit from it if it isn’t making sense.
  • Ask as many questions as you want, but stay on topic. Don’t be afraid of delving into the details of the problem – make sure you get all the necessary information while you’re there. However, it’s easy to start straying into other areas of concern you may have. This isn’t the time for that – focus on the project you’re trying to tackle and save your other questions for another time or another volunteer that might be better suited to it.

5. Implementing ideas afterwards

Obviously part of the reason you need this support in the first place is that you’re stretched. However, you’ve already invested time into preparing and taking part in the session. There’s no point in just putting the project on the back burner and making no improvements. Make sure to get the relevant members of your team together to talk it through. Invest some real time into putting together an action plan, delegating responsibilities, and starting to implement the ideas.

If you’re going to be working with the volunteers going forward, include them in the discussions and make sure they have clear tasks as well. If not, only contact them if something from the session was unclear. Put timelines in place so tasks don’t keep dropping to the bottom of everyone’s priority lists and allocate a project manager to make sure people are on top of everything.

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If you would like any support with planning a skilled volunteering project or finding new volunteers, please get in touch: rose@thirdbridge.co.uk.

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Post by Rose Delfino, Community Development & Marketing Manager at thirdbridge.

How to make the most of skilled volunteering: a guide for volunteers

Are you working for a charity or social enterprise? Check out our guide to skilled volunteering for charities here.

What is skilled volunteering?

Skilled volunteering is using your professional skills to help a charity with a strategic or operational challenge.

This can be split up into two main areas:

  • Skill sharing is either using your experience of a particular job or your general professional competencies to help a charity. This could include an HR Manager advising a charity on their HR policies, or helping a charity improve their pitching skills thanks to your experience of giving presentations.
  • Pro bono is when you perform a task for free that a client would normally pay you to complete. This could include a lawyer helping a charity to draw up a contract, or an accountant helping a charity with their pay roll.

If properly executed, it’s a highly effective and efficient form of volunteering that can have an exponential impact on the charity you work with for years to come.

This type of volunteering is genuinely a win-win-win. For the charity, a key issue is tackled, meaning greater efficiency indefinitely, which will open up time and resources for focusing on service delivery. For you, the satisfaction levels are likely to be high given the immediate and lasting impact. It also helps with professional learning and development – 91% of Fortune 500 HR Managers think volunteering improves business and leadership skills (Source:Deloitte). For your company, a motivated and productive employee with improved skills and experience is obviously desirable.

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Here are our tips on how to make the most of your skilled volunteering experience:

1. Understanding your own skills

Breaking down your own areas of expertise can be tricky, especially if you have a job that mostly requires soft skills. Draw on your experiences from your entire career – you don’t have to focus on things you do every day in your current role. Take your time and come up with a comprehensive list of experiences you’ve had, then separate out the skills that you picked up from each of them.

Understanding the level of skill the charity has in their areas of need is a good way to decide whether you are skilled enough to help. If you’re working with a big charity that has dedicated staff in the area you’re going to be discussing, then high level knowledge probably won’t be enough. If, however, you’re going to be advising a small organisation with just a couple of staff members in total, your expertise could still make a big difference.

Be upfront about what you can and can’t do – don’t just agree to something you’re not comfortable with. You can even sculpt the project together with the charity to make sure it maximises impact for them while making the most of what you have to offer.

2. Finding charities that need your expertise

A good place to start is your company. They are likely to already have relationships with various charities that you might not even know about. Speak to the relevant people within your organisation to find out what projects they’re already running – there might already be some pro bono initiatives on the go. If not, why not speak to them about your interest? Most companies run projects with charities specifically to make sure their employees are motivated and engaged, so there’s a good chance they’ll work with you to set something up. Otherwise, you could reach out to the charity partners directly to see if they have any needs in those areas.

You can also do some research yourself. Decide where you want to volunteer, how often, which causes you care about, etc. – Google is your best friend here but also try the Charity Commission website to find out some more details about the charity before approaching them. When reaching out, be clear about what you’re offering – whether you represent your company or if you’re just an individual. Use LinkedIn and the charity’s website to find the right person.

There are also external support organisations that you can approach to help you find a charity to work with – including thirdbridge!

3. Preparing for your time together

Working with charities can be quite different to working in the corporate world. They are often smaller than you’re used to, with less staff, and far more limited budgets.

These are our tips:

  • Don’t make suggestions that will require a lot of money to implement. For example, it’s very unlikely these organisation could bring in consultants – unless they could give their time for free.
  • Try not to make suggestions that will require significant manpower in a short amount of time. Most of these organisation have small teams that are already stretched.
  • The representatives you are talking to may not be familiar with what you consider to be standard business language, so try and keep it jargon-free.
  • Having said that, don’t be condescending. Third sector organisations are experts in their fields, and often only struggle to create or implement strategies due to lack of capacity.
  • Remember that the aim is not to create profit. Although some organisations will be looking for advice on fundraising or even selling products, that money is not an end point in itself. It will be used to reach more beneficiaries, recruit and engage more volunteers, and provide the most impactful service they can to those who need it most.
  • Efficiency is so vital for these organisations. If other issues come up during your conversations with the charity, do not be afraid to flag them. Just drawing attention to an issue the organisation may not realise it has is useful.

4. During your time together

Clearly there needs to be some flexibility in the process, but putting some structure in place for the discussion is definitely a good idea.

Here are our thoughts:

  • Start with a quick overview of the charity, the challenge they are hoping to address, and how your skills fit in with that.
  • Start exploring the challenge. Think about how it fits into the wider context of the organisation, where they are now, and where they want to be. Consider the culture or internal politics of the organisation too.
  • Use this time to try and gauge how far along the organisation is on the journey to solving the problem, and adapt your approach accordingly.
  • Take into consideration any work already done to address the issue, both internally or through other external support.
  • Then you can get stuck into recommendations, solutions, proposals, and really tackle what needs to be done to overcome this challenge.

5. Afterwards

Be upfront about whether you can keep supporting them after your initial time together. If you can, also be clear about how much time you can commit, how often, and for how long.

If you can’t keep supporting them, consider at least offering to stay in touch – that way if they have any quick follow up questions about the work you’ve already done they are able to reach out. It would also be nice to check up on how things are going after three, six, and twelve months. That way you’ll have a real understanding of the impact you’ve had and how the charity has used your ideas to improve their operations.

If you can continue the support, then spend some time setting expectations and making an action plan for everyone involved. Committing to a relationship like this should be taken seriously by both sides and you should all be clear what your responsibilities are and how the project will be managed going forward.

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If you would like any support with finding a charity to volunteer with, please get in touch: rose@thirdbridge.co.uk.

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Post by Rose Delfino, Community Development & Marketing Manager at thirdbridge.