Skills-based volunteering can help address a number of challenges facing nonprofits today. The pandemic has disrupted nonprofit operations and caused a higher reliance on digital tools to deliver programming. CanadaHelps conducted a survey of more than 1400 Canadian charities about their digital skills. 54 per cent of the respondents believed they’ll soon find it harder to conduct their programming without improvements to their digital capabilities, making it clear that digital adoption is a much needed change for many nonprofits. Yet most cannot afford to hire tech professionals to fulfill their need for digital upgrades due to short-term demands and resource limitations. This is where skills-based volunteering comes in. Organizations that bring in qualified digital talent will be more successful in filling the digital gap of their organization and skilled volunteers provide this talent at minimum to zero cost.
However, the majority of charities are not experienced in leveraging skilled volunteers to accomplish tasks effectively. Most often they are more comfortable with engaging volunteers in tasks like running a soup kitchen or packing toy boxes. However, utilizing volunteers in skills-based tasks can make much bigger impacts to the organization and their mission.
At Venture 2 Impact, we work with skilled volunteers in virtual and abroad volunteer settings. Our skilled volunteers help our NGO communities solve complex problems in the areas of tech and business.
We use design thinking and human centered approaches to ensure that the experiences are right for the volunteers and impactful for the community. Our team recently wrapped a hackathon to build a real-time, digital case management system for Childfund Uganda to help them gather data for 29,000 children attending their programming. This project involved developers, UX designers, product managers, and more. Our volunteers came together to co-create ChildFund Uganda’s new tool. With the system built during the hackathon, CFU will be able to improve their data collection, analyses and data-based decision-making.
Our team is also currently facilitating a business and entrepreneurship training program for youth in the Gambia. This project engages business, marketing, accounting, and finance professionals to help teach valuable skills to youth facing marginalization. Forfour weeks, our skilled volunteers will develop and lead interactive training sessions with 20 youth on topics like idea generation, marketing and other business skills.
V2I is experienced in leveraging skilled volunteers, so when you’re looking to involve skilled volunteers in your organization successfully, we offer the following advice:
It is important to be precise about what it is that you want to accomplish with their skilled volunteers. If your goal is to digitally transform your organization, there is not just one volunteer that can help you do that. However, having a clear set goal like, improving the UX of your website to facilitate donations, is a clear goal that allows you to understand exactly what skills you will need in your volunteers.
Your volunteers are helping you because they want to be a part of advancing a social mission. Think about what the outcome will be if you change your UX to get more donations? Will you be able to feed more hungry people? Will you be able to send more girls in developing countries to school? When considering success, it’s not about improving the UX of your website, it’s about the mission you are advancing. Outlining the impact of the task is how the volunteer is going to be motivated to contribute.
Have a job description with clear roles and responsibilities for the volunteers. While it is important that your volunteer understands their impact, it is also crucial to make sure they understand your expectations and the required commitment needed to complete the task.
Think about where you’re going to recruit these volunteers from. If you don’t have any direct tech connections, use platforms like Meetup to find local tech talent. Think about any digital initiatives in your city, or country, and ask the organizers to share the opportunity with their community. You may even consider sharing through the Computer Science departments at the universities and colleges in your local area. Techies are everywhere so be strategic about where you look for your volunteers!
Consider what an appropriate kick off structure is. How are you going to keep people motivated and ensure they have the support they need to accomplish your mission? Will that be through bi-weekly or monthly calls? How are you going to keep your volunteers connected and informed? Even something as simple as a timeline in a Google Sheet could be enough to keep your project on track.
In our organization we say a project isn’t done until we report on it. Be sure that you create some kind of wrap up report to help the volunteers know how they’ve contributed. Share this on social media and tag the volunteers to celebrate them! You may even ask them if they’re interested in doing a joint lunch and learn about the project with their team (this is your chance of meeting more techies!).
For us, we engage our skilled volunteers with a very clear task. We show them the deliverable of the program, clearly outline their needed commitment, and train them to make sure they can do the job (like, cultural training or specific context/tech training). We show them what success looks like in this program and how we’ll be supporting them. All this ensures that the engagement we are asking for is clear, defined and everyone knows what they need to do.