September 29, 2021

Meaningful Impact (Even Virtually!) With Skills-Based Volunteerism

Today’s employees are highly committed to working for a purpose-focused company. So how do you help them leverage their skills to engage in that purpose?

According to Porter Novelli’s Purpose Tracker: Employee Perspectives on Responsible Leadership During Crisis, nearly nine-in-10 (88%) employees believe it is no longer acceptable for companies just to make money; companies must positively impact society as well. And while employees want their employers to be committed to positive societal impact, they also want to be a part of the purpose equation personally – to roll up their sleeves and get involved.

Skills-based volunteerism (sometimes referred to as pro-bono service) enables employees to contribute their professional skills and experiences to a nonprofit organization or community project in need of that specific expertise (often during paid company time).

CECP’s 2020 Giving In Numbers reports 71% percent of corporate survey respondents said they offered at least one skills-based volunteer program. Are you one of these companies? If not, now may be the perfect time to launch a program.

Skills-Based Volunteering Engages and Expands

In practice, skills-based volunteerism can take a variety of forms. Female technology professionals might partner with a STEM-focused nonprofit organization to mentor school-aged girls and create engaging, hands-on learning experiences to encourage future female technologists. Logistics experts could partner with a global NGO to help them determine the most efficient and cost-effective ways to get emergency supplies into the hands of people in the wake of natural disasters. Engineers can work in developing countries to advance projects that strengthen infrastructure and transportation.

There’s no shortage of creative ways skilled professionals can leverage their particular knowledge for social good since most functional areas of business translate to the nonprofit context. A savvy nonprofit partner can help map out where the overlap between your business acumen and their areas of greatest need lie.

In addition to the contributions to the nonprofit or community endeavor, these skills-based volunteer efforts can be incredibly powerful and deliver real benefit to your organization as well. Employees will feel like they’re making a meaningful difference in the world, while simultaneously developing leadership skills and discovering new ways to utilize existing skill sets (all key drivers for increased employee satisfaction, retention and morale).

Success Depends Upon Managing the Details (And the Data!)

One thing to keep in mind is that executing these skills-based volunteer programs can be a logistically heavy lift. What’s more, company leadership, the board, the nonprofit, and your employees may want an immediate way to demonstrate ROI. Careful planning is required to roll out a successful, well-aligned, sustainable, and trackable program.

According to this SSIR article outlining advice from corporate practitioners, the first step is understanding the fit with business priorities, which includes answering the following questions:

  • How does the program align with strategic goals? 
  • Are the associated business goals primarily employee engagement or talent development? 
  • How will the skills-based program fit into an employee’s workday and business priorities?
  • Do workers have sufficient control and flexibility over their schedule to meet the demands of the projects and team dynamics? 
  • What are the business cycles, logistics, and product or scheduling issues that will need to be aligned?

From there, these priorities follow:

Targeting the effort  Which employee capabilities best align with the support that nonprofits most need?

Calibrating control – Do you want to specify the project type and level of commitment that employees dedicate, let business units decide, or let projects dictate engagement?

Iteration and adaptability –  Once the program is defined, the corporation must support, follow up, refine, and adapt.


Impact Reporting: A Critical Component of Skills-Based Volunteer Programs

Speaking of trackable programs… Keeping decision-makers in the C-suite well informed about impact outcomes is a foundational must-have for skills-based volunteer efforts. Be sure that the CSR software you’re using to power your program can be configured to suit your needs and set up from the start to gather the right data – both quantitative and qualitative – to generate reports that will demonstrate impact.

You’ll want to be able to collect and display important quantitative data such as the number of volunteers per region or function or the number of hours volunteered. And be sure you can also collect qualitative data like volunteer surveys, narrative accounts of a project, and image uploads from volunteers – all necessary ingredients for crafting a compelling, authentic story about the experience. These stories can then be shared with the C-suite, other employees, your nonprofit partners, or even with customers and other stakeholders externally to make a meaningful emotional connection.

The Future is Virtual: Skills-Based Volunteerism Goes Remote with Your Workforce

Our clients, like many of you, have had to pivvot to adjust to challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic. It has forced many in-person, skills-based volunteer programs to transition to online experiences. CECP’s most recent data reveals that 49% of company respondents said they created a virtual volunteering program from scratch in 2020. Luckily, many skills-based volunteer experiences can be just as powerful when delivered virtually. And nonprofit organizations need the functional help that skills-based volunteering provides now more than ever before. 

Some companies report that creating the opportunity for volunteers to work on projects remotely has opened up these experiences to more employees and even generated new and impactful projects not previously considered. So while the foreseeable future of skills-based volunteering may be virtual, your efforts to engage employees in meaningful ways don’t have to go on pause.

Want help assessing the technology to take your skills-based volunteerism program to the next level? Reach out to schedule your personal demo today.


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