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Your nonprofit needs a skills-based volunteer program

by | Aug 23, 2019 | Nonprofit

The history of volunteering in America is almost as long as the history of the United States. The roots of volunteering go back to the first colonists who banded together to help each other out in times of need.

In 1736, Benjamin Franklin, the future President of the United States, founded the Union Fire Company in Philadelphia. This organization then became the first volunteer-run firehouse in the world 19 years before the term “volunteer” was even recorded. 

Now, almost 1 in 4 Americans dedicate their time to helping nonprofit causes. From welcoming event visitors to handing out food to the homeless to running NPOs, volunteers play an essential role in nonprofit success. 

However, the problem is that many nonprofits don’t know how to employ volunteers strategically. While volunteers can temporarily alleviate a short staff, few nonprofit managers actually recruit volunteers in a sustainable way that benefits the nonprofit’s long-term goals.

Skill-based volunteering helps solidify long-term success by recruiting volunteers with specific skills to help get tasks completed. Does your nonprofit need to implement skill-based volunteering program?

Here’s the things you need to know to make it work:

Quality over Quantity

Did you ever catch yourself wishing that you could do more? Save more lives? Help more children? Have a greater impact on your community?

But you can’t. Because you don’t have the necessary funds or the person-power for your mission. Most of the time you’re overworked and feel overwhelmed – you must rely on volunteers to make your projects transform into a reality.

Unfortunately, in their rush to do greater good, many nonprofits forget to approach volunteer programs strategically. Instead of thinking about volunteers as short-term solutions to a current problem, nonprofit should think about volunteers as long-term investments on their organization and employees.

With skill-based volunteers, you can solve issues through quality rather than quantity.

Recruiting Efficiency into the Work Place

The Corporation for National and Community Service defines skill-based volunteering as “an innovative approach that takes advantage of individuals’ skills and experience to help service organizations build and sustain their capacity to bring real solutions to our most pressing social problems.”

Here’s a simpler definition:

Skill-based volunteers, whether they are individuals or business employees, help you meet daily challenges by targeting specific skilled-areas in your organization that need help.

Essentially, the point of skill-based volunteering is to help you achieve more through teaching you how to make daily operations more efficient.

Basically, skilled volunteers don’t come in to solve your short-term problems (like pro bono volunteers do), they help you reach sustainability by working with you, not for you.

By helping you reduce administrative and operational work, skilled volunteers liberate your time. Thus, allowing you to focus on projects instead of paperwork and its nuances.

Skilled volunteers can help you target critical-needs areas, starting from accounting and logistics to project planning and IT. There are two forms of engagement: working with individual volunteers, or collaborating with volunteer groups.

Revolving work around collaboration

The choice between individual assignments and group volunteering depends upon the scope of the project. While business volunteers may be best positioned to provide short-term project consulting, individual volunteers may serve as excellent mentors for your staff.

Here’s an example:every nonprofit needs to tell stories about the impact of their work. In order to tell stories, you need to be a skilled communicator – but what if you’re not?

By collaborating with a journalist, your staff could learn how to identify impactful stories for your audience;  A photographer could teach your staff members how to work with a camera; A social media manager could teach your staff  how to gain online exposure; A project manager could audit your workflow for improvements. Collaborating with skilled volunteers saves you both time and energy in the long-run.

Translating business talent into nonprofit solutions

Skill-based volunteering brings numerous benefits to business owners. Collaborations with nonprofits help employees hone skills which are critical for business development. While nonprofits can develop fruitful collaborations with individual volunteers, oftentimes businesses are best positioned to address challenges of major importance.

Most nonprofits are forced to face limited resources and other constraints. This is exactly what makes a nonprofit environment so special for the development of critical business skills.

By working with nonprofits, business employees can develop creative problem-solving and project management skills and build their leadership capacity. By helping nonprofits, businesses help themselves.

Volunteer work can even help employees develop a sense of purpose and achieve personal fulfillment. Multiple studies also confirm that employees engaged in volunteering at work are happier, more loyal and more productive.

These charitable commitments  develop meaningful community connections, drive sales and attract investments. Consumers love businesses that care enough to give back to communities.

Make skill-based volunteering work for you

If you want to start working with skilled volunteers – your nonprofit needs to prepare.

Our first piece of advice: start small. Think about your collaborations as learning opportunities. Do you need help to reduce administrative work? Or social media training? Maybe you need to prepare your first ever grant report or create your first brochure? Regardless of what you’re looking for, here are the 5 essential steps towards getting the best experience out of  your skill-based volunteers:

1. Assess your needs. Before you send out a call for volunteers you need to answer a lot of questions in order to match the right volunteer with the right project. What kind of work do you need to do? How many people need to be involved? How much time would it take? And so on and so forth.

2. Create the most complete job description imaginable. Define the needs, scope and duration of your collaboration.  Volunteers need to know all the details beforehand so that they can commit and perform to their best possible ability .

3. Provide all necessary background information upfront. In order to avoid wasting time, have your nonprofit provide any information or data about your organization or mission a volunteer will need to know before and during their time as a volunteer.

4. Be open to suggestions. Yes, there’s a likelihood you may hear some criticism about your current work or structure. Expect that. But don’t forget, the point of skill-based volunteering is learning, and hearing other professionals’ opinions is incredibly useful for growing and strengthening your own team.

5. Provide recognition once the project is complete. Individual volunteers would welcome letters of reference, while businesses would appreciate a mention on social media and in other sources of information, like brochures or press releases.

Where to find skilled volunteers

While you can use your mailing list and social media channels to send out a call for volunteers, you may also choose to work with an intermediary organization. Be mindful of the fact that many intermediaries may charge a fee from both parties. Common Impact, Catchafire, Volunteer Match, GlobalGivingTIME, and Skilled Impact are good resources for connecting volunteers to nonprofits.

If you want to get more useful tips about skill-based volunteering, visit the website of the Corporation for National and Community Service.


  • Quality over quantity helps your long-term growth.
  • Skill-based volunteers provide a service or insight into a specific issue at your nonprofit.
  • Businesses are beneficial partners.
  • Plan to have your staff learn and grow from your skill-based volunteers.
  • You may choose to work with individual volunteers, or you may decide to collaborate with a group of volunteers. Everything will depend on your objectives. Individual volunteers may serve as excellent mentors, while group volunteers may help you address tasks of major importance.
  • There are many things businesses and individuals can do for you. However, in order to make the partnership work, make sure to highlight what you can do for them.


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