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.


If you would like any support with planning a skilled volunteering project or finding new volunteers, please get in touch:


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.


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.


If you would like any support with finding a charity to volunteer with, please get in touch:


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

Timewasters need not apply

Collaboration is rarely easy, and working cross-sector is even more complicated. Traditionally, partnerships between companies and charities have been characterised by the private sector organisation as the dominant party. Often these are not relationships of equals, in which both party’s needs, boundaries, and aspirations are taken into consideration. A healthy relationship would be one where both sides give and take, teach and learn, and grow together.

We want to make sure that no charity feels like they’ll lose out on support by being assertive, so here’s a few things we think that companies should keep in mind when asking charities for volunteering opportunities.


The charity you’re working with probably doesn’t revolve around you

While you may be a significant part of their day-to-day or their strategy going forward, they definitely have lots of other things going on too. That’s why it’s not going to do them any favours if you get in touch with a week’s notice asking to have 25 volunteers accommodated. Remember that it takes a lot of work for a charity to set up volunteering activities and they need enough notice so that their other workstreams aren’t compromised.

Charities are always evolving and their needs may not always be the same

Just because they needed some physical labour in their garden last year, it doesn’t mean that will still be a helpful thing for them now. Of course, it’s important that your employees are undertaking a type of volunteering that is engaging for them, but it’s also important that it’s something useful for the charity. Most volunteers can tell if they are there as part of a tick-box exercise anyway and would prefer to do something a bit different but feel like they are making a real impact. Speak to your contacts at the charity and speak to your employees – I can almost guarantee there will be some cross-over in their wants and needs.

Volunteering sometimes has a cost and it’s usually justifiable

Certain volunteering activities are expensive for charities – particularly hosting large groups, providing activities that require a lot of resources, or facilitating participation in sports-based fundraising events. It’s hard enough for most charities to make ends meet as it is without covering these costs as well. Sometimes they will ask you for a small financial contribution to cover the costs. This doesn’t necessarily need to be in the form of a company donation – individual employees can cover their part, or they can fundraise to make the money. They’re putting a lot of work in for you and the engagement you’ll get from your employees as a result is more than worth it.

Charities also have a lot to give

It’s seems to be very easy to forget that charities are full of passionate, committed, educated, experienced people. Yes, charities often need your expertise to make sure their operations are as efficient as possible. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t experts as well. They have a deep understanding of the demographics and communities that they work with every day – communities and people that could be your customers or future employees. They’re often extremely adept at engaging their stakeholders. They also certainly know how to make a big impact on a tiny budget – I’m sure all of us could benefit from that skill! You don’t just have a cause to support, you have a partner who can make you better as a person and as a business.

The onus is on both sides to make the relationship as productive as possible

There are so many fabulous and innovative ways for companies and charities to work together. Here are some of our favourite examples:

PetRescue Australia & Pedigree

Macmillan Cancer Support & Boots

Save the Children & GSK

Great relationships like these don’t just spring up naturally, and they are rarely driven by one side only. Collaboration usually breeds the most exciting ideas. Work together as colleagues. Not as a benefactor and recipient, but as two equals who are passionate about social and environmental change and have complimentary experiences that can be combined to make a real difference. Think about skilled volunteering projects where staff from each side have teaching or mentoring roles, developing a product to sell together, an unusual cause marketing campaign, running an event together – the world is your oyster.


From conversations we’ve had with parties from both sides of the coin, it looks like things are already starting to move in this direction. Charities are becoming more confident about what they have to offer, and companies are learning to treat charities as valuable partners rather than grateful recipients of their philanthropy. We’re looking forward to hearing more and more examples of relationships that are genuine partnerships working towards solving the most important social and environmental issues we all face.

If you would like any more information about how thirdbridge can help you find new charity or company partners, please contact Rose on


Post by Rose Delfino, Community Development & Marketing Manager

Inspirational conversations: Alix Wooding on cross-sector partnerships

This post is part of a series of conversations with people who make doing good look easy, and inspire us in our work. 

The world of doing good is a tricky one to navigate. It can be hard to stay on track when things aren’t working out exactly how you would like. However, the proof is out there! It keeps us inspired and motivated every day.

We wanted to share that with you, so we’ve been speaking to the people that are taking giant leaps for the rest of us to follow.

Our first conversation is with Alix Wooding. Alix is currently Assistant Director of Engagement at Anthony Nolan. Previously, she was Head of Corporate Partnerships at Macmillan Cancer Support, and Alzheimer’s Society.  She has brokered relationships with Boots, npower, Marks & Spencer, Tesco, and KPMG, creating employee engagement, commercial, and integrated partnerships.

If that isn’t an impressive CV, we don’t know what is. Here’s what she had to say to our founder, Rick Benfield, about cross-sector partnerships.

 [RB]: You’ve said before that the word ‘partnership’ is an over-used term when it comes to relationships between companies and charities – what do you mean by this and what, in your view, turns a relationship into a partnership?

It’s a bit contentious but, yes, I actually think that the use of the word ‘partnership’ can be a bit of a red herring and can leave both sides a bit frustrated and disappointed.  Lots of relationships between charities and companies are transactional: we provide a service for our client (staff engagement, PR, volunteering opportunities) and they retain us because we have the skills and expertise to deliver what they want.

Partnership is different because the relationship is more open, honest and complex.  There is value being delivered to both sides. It isn’t just the exchange of services for money.  The focus is generating shared value.

“Great partnerships are built where an exchange of money couldn’t create the value that the partnership brings.”

[RB]: Do you think it is important for companies and charities to work in true partnership?  

Yes, if we’re going to solve the real problems in society that we’re trying to tackle.  But we need to be aware that it is not an easy thing to do.

We ask for money, because we can translate it into solutions for our beneficiaries, but there are lots of ways to create solutions. Great partnerships are built where an exchange of money couldn’t create the value that the partnership brings.

“Companies don’t fully understand the value that charities can bring, and charities can look at companies as just a chequebook.”

[RB]: Do you think the potential benefits of working together (beyond simple, transactional relationships) are really understood by most companies and charities?

No, not yet.  Companies don’t fully understand the value that charities can bring, and charities can look at companies as just a chequebook.

True partnership has to start from a place of understanding the value that you will bring to one another, and building a relationship of trust and respect.

[RB]: What are the barriers to more transformational partnerships forming?

I think there are lots of barriers to more transformational partnerships forming: none of them are insurmountable, but they can derail many well -intentioned conversations.

  • Time: it takes a long time to build real understanding and trust.
  • Clarity: both sides need to be really clear about the value that the partnership will deliver for their stakeholders, and it needs to be important to them.
  • Culture: there can be big differences in organisational culture; only if you’re aiming for something worthwhile will you persevere when it feels like you’re talking different languages.
  • Evidence: there isn’t great recent data or evidence out there of the real value of working in partnership. That can make it tough for both sides to sell: for fundraisers it’s hard to quantify value over cash, and for businesses it can be hard to quantify the value to brand and perception.

Case study: Macmillan and npower

mac and npower

[RB]: Which partnership that you have been involved with are you most proud of?

An exceptional partnership that I was part of at Macmillan is the long-standing one with npower.

[RB]: What were the main objectives of the partnership?

With npower, we wanted to support people with cancer affected by fuel poverty. We set up a fund, the npower Macmillan Fund, to support npower customers with cancer by allowing them to cap energy bills and write off debt.  This ensures they can keep warm without the worry, and focus on getting well rather than on staying warm.  So far we have helped over 3,000 cancer patients save over £3million.

[RB]: What were the benefits for both sides?

Our first thought when developing the programme was to ensure it really delivered value to people with cancer.  We’ve also found that it’s a great programme to gain recognition for the partnership, and have driven awareness and PR campaigns about it.  The awards we’ve won have helped to keep colleagues at both organisations engaged and inspired.

[RB]: What was the hardest thing about the partnership? 

Like any partnership, we’ve had our ups and downs.  We’ve had to work hard to ensure the processes between the two organisations are slick, and we’ve had to keep the conversation going to ensure the fund has evolved to continue to meet the needs of people with cancer.

“Be clear about the problem you’re trying to solve, and the outcome that you want, but stay open about how you will get there.”

[RB]: Finally, what advice would you give to anyone about to embark on a new cross-sector partnership?

  • Be clear about the problem you’re trying to solve, and the outcome that you want, but stay open about how you will get there.  If you’re too fixed, you’re not in a partnership mindset, because you’ve already discounted potential value that your partner could bring.
  • Engage people across both organisations – a partnership is between two organisations, not two people.
  • Give it time, partnerships are not quick to form.
  • There will be benefits to both sides, but both sides have to put in enough effort.
  • Make sure it’s for something you really want: all partnerships take time, effort and energy, so it should be worthwhile.

We hope Alix’s words have inspired you. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us on 

Click here to read more about the npower and Macmillan partnership.

How to get the support you need

Taking your first steps to working with companies can be a daunting experience. Here are our top tips on how to make it easier.

  1. PLAN
  • Before you even think about what kind of company would be good for you, you need to be clear about what you want. Take some time to define your goals.
  • When you know what you want to achieve as an organisation, break it down into manageable chunks.
  • Then, think about how companies could help you achieve each of these small goals.

Why not make use of our new, simple way of categorising what you need?

People – volunteers to help you with unskilled tasks

Expertise – volunteers to help you with their professional skills

Fundraising – individuals or groups of individuals to raise money

Money – finances from a company – a donation, sponsorship, or cause-related marketing

Things – donations of products like laptops, office furniture, or gardening equipment

Other – anything else, including apprenticeships for beneficiaries, or use of event space


  • Now you understand what you want from companies, do some research. Look at similar charities. What successes have they had with companies? What type of company are they approaching? Are there any great examples to inspire you?
  • Using the information you have compiled, think about what kind of company would be best for each goal. Where should they be? How many employees should they have? What industry sector should they be operating in?
  • At this point, you also need to consider what benefits the company would get from working with you. Why would they want to support you? Does your cause or the project they would be working on align with their customers, or the locations in which they operate? Could you help them unlock a new market? Could it improve their reputation? Could their employees develop new skills by taking part in the project?
  • Once you know these answers, get on Google and start creating a shortlist. LinkedIn is great to get an idea of size and industry sector. Twitter and Facebook are often places where companies show off the good they already do. Also, check their website to see if they are already working with charities and, if so, the nature of these relationships.
  • You can then use LinkedIn again to find a specific individual to contact. This could be someone in charge of CSR, HR, Marketing, Sustainability, or even the MD – use your judgement.

Why not ask us for advice? We do this all the time and would love to help. Reach out to if you’re ever feeling overwhelmed.


  • Using a combination of tools, you should be able to work out the direct email of the person you want to contact.
  • Spend some time writing a great first email.
  • Make sure to:

– be specific – be clear about what you are asking for

– make it customised – include details about their company and their approach to doing good

– be flattering – let them know you’re impressed by their work and their relationships with charities

– include a clear call to action – you could ask them if they are free for a chat on a certain day.

  • If they don’t reply, don’t be afraid to follow up a couple of times.
  • It’s also worth trying a cold call. Prepare first so you know what your key messages are, and ask for the person you want to reach by name.

Why not take the stress out and let us introduce you to potential partners? All you need to do is schedule a call with Rose, explain your needs, and she’ll approach on your behalf.


Love is in the air 😘

Loathe it or love it, Valentine’s Day is nearly upon us.

I’ve always loved dating. Whether it turns into true love or not, connecting with another person is always a good use of time. As far as I’m concerned you can’t lose: Bad date? You get to learn something about yourself and what you’re really looking for. Good date? Speaking to a person you don’t know opens you up to new experiences and points of view. Perfect match? Nothing beats the feeling of clicking with someone on a fundamental level.

But does that only apply to romance? I don’t think so. We could all benefit from more professional dating. It’s so easy to go for days only talking to people from your organisation or industry. How can we develop as people and as professionals if we don’t expose ourselves to different experiences, opinions, and skills?


At thirdbridge, we believe in cross-sector collaboration. Who needs sex, drugs and rock & roll when you have the excitement of introducing two perfectly compatible organisations? Not us, that’s for sure.

Our free network works just like a dating site. Sign up, advertise what you have to offer, and search for potential matches. Looking for no strings fun? One-off opportunities are for you – fire off a quick donation, volunteer for one day, or run a sponsored marathon to get your heart racing. More into casual dating? Check out our short-term opportunities – match your expertise with what a charity needs and help them over a few months. Or maybe see a few charities at the same time – we won’t tell. Searching for true love? There’s a charity out there waiting to sail off into the sunset and form a shared value, mutually-beneficial partnership.

Still a sceptic about virtual dating? We’ve got you covered. We agree that nothing beats a personal touch. Just contact our Cupid-in-residence ( and she’ll talk through what you’re looking for with you and do her best to personally introduce you to a potential match. And they said romance was dead.

So don’t worry if you don’t have a date this year, with our help you’ll be the Casanova of cross-sector collaboration in no time!


Blog written by Rose Delfino, Community Development and Marketing Manager, thirdbridge



Businesses unite in a bid to make the UK economy ‘fit for the future’ by backing sustainable development

  • Over 80 major businesses have united to call on the Government to demonstrate its commitment to delivering the UN Sustainable Development Goals in the UK and overseas
  • Open letter to Prime Minister says sustainable development is essential for long term prosperity and the wellbeing of future generations
  • Letter is published on the eve of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) annual meeting in Davos

In an open letter to the Prime Minister published today, thirdbridge, along with more than 80 leading companies have united in a call on the Government to demonstrate its commitment to delivering the UN Sustainable Development Goals* (SDGs).

Ahead of the World Economic Forum annual meeting taking place on 17-20 January, businesses say they are ready to work with the Government to help deliver the SDGs in the UK as well as internationally, but that the Government must create a framework to help businesses play their part.

The letter is published on the day that the Business and Sustainable Development Commission publishes its own flagship report on the business case for achieving sustainable and inclusive growth, and quantifying the value of private sector opportunities aligned with the SDGs.

“thirdbridge are proud to be part of this group of companies calling on the UK government to do more than pay lip service to the SDGs.  The only way the challenges we face at both a local and global level can be solved is if all sectors – public, private and third sectors – come together to tackle them.  We strongly support a partnership approach, with business playing it’s role to achieve the SDGs.”  Rick Benfield, CEO, thirdbridge

The letter was co-ordinated by UK Stakeholders in Sustainable Development (UKSSD), a non-profit network of businesses, NGOs and academics working to advance sustainable development and help facilitate the delivery of the SDGs in the UK.  WWF, one of the steering group members for UKSSD had this to say:

“It’s good business to be fit for the future and consider long-term prosperity alongside the well-being of generations to come. Our current business models too often plunder and pollute the world’s natural resources with devastating consequences for our planet. From increasingly severe weather patterns to the dramatic bleaching of coral reefs and the destruction of rainforests, the need to protect our planet and its people is more urgent than ever before.”  Tanya Steele, Chief Executive, WWF-UK


Blog written by Rose Delfino, Community Development and Marketing Manager, thirdbridge