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.
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:
- Career Volunteer for help finding a trustee
- TrustLaw & iProbono for legal support
- Media Trust for marketing support
- CITA for IT advice
- DataKind for data expertise
- Coalition for Efficiency & Inspiring Impact for help with impact measurement
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.
If you would like any support with planning a skilled volunteering project or finding new volunteers, please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Post by Rose Delfino, Community Development & Marketing Manager at thirdbridge.