Development Crossing

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Sustainability

Taking the “I” Out of Volunteering

Dollarphotoclub_57407941So many nonprofits, so many causes, so much need. If only there were more volunteers to help.

Not so fast. The truth is that volunteer numbers are not the issue.

According to a recent discovery by LinkedIn, more than six million people indicated on their LinkedIn profiles that they’d like to use their skills to volunteer at nonprofits, but only 55,000 volunteer opportunities have been listed.

As reported by the Financial Times, this gap is growing wider by the day. Meg Garlinghouse, who leads LinkedIn for Good, the company’s social impact program, told the Times, “Every week, we get about 100,000 more professionals checking the box but we only get a couple of hundred more opportunities on the network.”

Addressing this problem is why I launched Causecast, a platform designed to engage employees in community service and connect them with opportunities to make a difference.

And that’s the key phrase - “making a difference.” Goodwill alone isn’t sufficient to make an impact. Sometimes, volunteers have the best of intentions but descend upon nonprofits through manufactured opportunities that give the nonprofit more work than benefit, and the only thing positively impacted are the volunteers’ egos.

If a volunteer opportunity makes the volunteer feel good about themselves while making the nonprofit feel like an exhausted babysitter, it’s probably not an ideal use of anyone’s time. Managers of corporate volunteer programs must ask themselves, “Are we getting more out of this than the nonprofit?” If the answer is yes, nonprofits should be charging the corporation for the experience (many do), providing a financial benefit that compensates for the resources it takes to manage the minimal volunteer benefit to the nonprofit.

But isn’t skills-based volunteering different than painting murals (no offense to mural painters)?

There’s no doubt that skills-based volunteering is more valuable to nonprofits, more beneficial to companies that can use these opportunities to stretch their employees’ skills in new ways, and usually more meaningful to the volunteers. A recent LinkedIn survey showed that a whopping 79 percent of members prefer skills-based volunteering to the standard variety.

Indeed, skills-based volunteering is so popular that it’s become the fastest growing trend in corporate employee engagement. According to CECP’s 2014 Giving in Numbers report, the number of businesses that have some kind of pro bono program has increased from 30 percent to just over 50 percent in six years.

For nonprofits, skills-based volunteering is more helpful than standard volunteering, offering a service that has greater impact and literal value. According to Small Business, Big Purpose: A guide to skills-based volunteerism, an e-book by A Billion + Change and Blackbaud and Riggs Partners, data shows that “each hour of traditional volunteerism is worth $22.14 to the nonprofit. If you are contributing skills to a nonprofit, however, the value literally skyrockets. In these instances, the value of one person’s skilled service can range from something relatively modest to hundreds of dollars an hour.”

One would presume that the skills-based volunteer hopefuls who want to leverage their business talents to help nonprofits are nothing but helpful. And that’s true, but even skills-based volunteer opportunities take time and effort for nonprofits to arrange and coordinate.

Organizations like Taproot and movements like A Billion Plus Change are helping to harness the power of skills-based volunteering, working with both the nonprofits that need this support and the companies ready to furnish talent. Businesses like Pack Shack have popped up to package volunteering opportunities as a fun party for on-site employees.  And companies like Causecast help produce campaigns and virtual projects that can be done from the comfort of your desk - such as language translations or assistance developing training materials - to take the heavy lifting of volunteerism off of the shoulders of nonprofits that can least afford it.  

Nonprofits are under-resourced and underfunded, and there’s no doubt that they desperately need the help that so many well-intentioned volunteers want to provide. Organizations that help nonprofits understand where they can use more expertise and capacity, and then connecting them with that help, offer one key step towards solving the complex problems we face as a society.


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