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Key takeaways:

  • Skills-based volunteering also enables a deeper, more meaningful connection for both parties involved.
  • By donating their professional experience in finance, HR, marketing, etc., employees can provide nonprofits with a level of assistance that goes far beyond just dollars.
  • Nonprofits often lack the talent, resources, and funding that large enterprises have available to function most effectively — skills-based volunteering can help bridge this gap.
  • In order to aid nonprofits with their most pressing needs, you need to ask the right questions and leverage the right resources.

Why implement skills-based volunteering?

The most valuable resource within any enterprise is undoubtedly the talent on board, and corporate social responsibility leaders have the ability to maximize this talent to advance their volunteerism and giving strategy.

Skills-based volunteering — or donating one’s professional expertise — can further elevate your program and aid your nonprofit partners in ways money can’t buy.

Volunteer consulting company Taproot Foundation states that while traditional hands-on volunteering is crucial to fulfilling some nonprofits’ needs, other forms of support can aid these organizations, many of which don’t have access to the resources, funding, or talent required to function most effectively.

From drafting a budget to creating a marketing campaign, there are a number of professional services available to enable nonprofits to close those gaps. In fact, Taproot calculated that an average hour of skills-based volunteering in areas like strategic planning, human resources, finances, etc., was worth $195.

The mutual benefits of skills-based volunteering are clear, but doing it wrong means wasting valuable time and resources.

CarMax Director of Community Relations Leslie Parpart and Hilary Smith, Executive Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility at NBCUniversal, came together for an ESG & CSR Board panel on employee engagement and volunteerism, where they shared their best advice for cultivating skills-based volunteer opportunities.

Fostering a deeper connection

Skills-based volunteering is a large component of the volunteer activities at NBCUniversal, and Hilary said creating a program of this nature demands a very thoughtful process.

One way this is accomplished is by partnering with the NBCUniversal Talent Lab, which, according to the organization, is a “suite of learning and development experiences that are uniquely designed to engage, educate, and empower employees to shape and deliver the future of NBCUniversal.”

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Through the talent lab, employees go through a course called Pro Bono, which is an experience used to develop inclusive leaders as they utilize their talents to assist outside organizations in need of their professional skill set.

Hilary explained that within Pro Bono, employees are able to learn more about the nonprofit experience and the challenges these organizations are facing.

“We really build empathy,” Hilary said.

By the time employees have gone through Pro Bono, they’ll understand the complete scope of work, timeline, and the tools needed to successfully help the nonprofit accomplish a strategic goal.

According to NBC, through the most recent Pro Bono course, 48 employees consulted with 13 mission-driven nonprofit organizations seeking guidance.

Hilary said this model is a great example of providing a more immersive volunteering opportunity and one that allows for a more meaningful experience for both parties.

“I think making it a deeper, more meaningful experience is so important to our employees and hugely benefits the nonprofits who are the recipients of this skill-based advice.”

Hilary Smith, Executive Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility at NBCUniversal

While employees do have access to shorter-term volunteer opportunities, such as a mentor program with Step Up Women’s Network, Hilary said the goal is to always provide a valuable educational experience for everyone involved.

She said though this mentor program takes place across a Spring Break period, the relationship doesn’t reflect a “speed dating” experience.

“We’re really putting more into it,” Hilary said.

Fostering a deeper connection for both employees and nonprofit partners is one of the many benefits of skills-based volunteerism.

When software company Atlassian launched a skills-based volunteering program, they found the experience had a profound impact on the volunteers themselves. Nearly 90% of employees reported feeling a deeper connection to both the causes they engaged with and their own enterprise. Furthermore, all participants said they would recommend skills-based volunteering to a colleague.

“Skills-based volunteering is not so much about big numbers; it’s about deeper engagement,” Lauren Black, Social Impact Specialist at the Atlassian Foundation, said.

Asking the right questions

It’s clear that skills-based volunteering is an attractive opportunity for many employees, but how do you avoid potentially overwhelming your nonprofit partners? When donating time and resources, you want to make sure you’re maximizing your impact and providing aid where it’s most needed.

Leslie said developing an effective skills-based volunteer program is really about equipping and empowering your teams to ask the right questions. Nonprofits simply need the help, and Leslie said in her experience when an enterprise calls to offer a group of volunteers, the nonprofit is going to accept regardless of whether or not they have a project in mind.

In this case, it’s key that your employees are enabled to ask the right questions to determine what the immediate need is. Leslie said it’s also important to let your nonprofit partners know at the corporate level that it’s always okay to say no.

At CarMax, Leslie shared that the team heavily leverages Points of Light, which is an organization devoted to connecting companies to volunteer opportunities. She said Points of Light helps determine the most pressing needs unique to the various communities.

“We want to know where the greatest needs are, then we do some matchmaking on the back end,” Leslie said.

Hilary added that NBC works with both Taproot and Pyxera Global to accomplish this.

“They do a lot of that vetting for us, which I think makes sure the infrastructure is in place and makes it easier to accomplish,” Hilary said.

Notably, Leslie shared that it’s also extremely important to let your nonprofit partners know that dollars will follow your volunteers, particularly so they know they will not be responsible for incurring the cost of resources required for these projects.

“We know nonprofits are understaffed and under-resourced, especially over the last couple of years.”

Leslie  Parpart, Director of Community Relations at CarMax

Learning from others

The skills-based volunteer programs at NBCUniversal, CarMax, and Atlassian are great examples of how enterprises can maximize the skill sets of their employees to benefit the greater good.

It’s always helpful to hear these success stories when building your own program, and the ESG & CSR Board is where leaders like Leslie and Hilary turn for unbiased peer insights.

Interested in learning more?

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