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.
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.
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.
If you would like any support with finding a charity to volunteer with, please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Post by Rose Delfino, Community Development & Marketing Manager at thirdbridge.