Skills-Based Volunteering: Definitions, benefits & examples

Stéphanie Grawehr September 22, 2021

What is Skill-Based Volunteering? Skill-Based Volunteering Characteristics Benefits for your company Benefits for employees Skills-based Volunteering FAQs

When you think of corporate volunteering, what comes to mind?

Corporate volunteering has changed greatly over time, with corporate volunteers now able to volunteer more flexibly than ever. Field volunteering, virtual volunteering, and skills-based volunteering all provide great benefits to the community and nonprofit sector.

Each organization’s employee volunteer program determines the volunteering opportunities available to their employees. It’s common for company leadership to align volunteering opportunities with core business values, and take advantage of their workforce’s specialized skills. 

How can employees volunteer?

As we mentioned, there are multiple ways in which employees can volunteer to provide added benefit to nonprofit organizations. Whether that’s by volunteering time or skills, there’s always a way to support local nonprofits.

It’s up to organizations to undertake employee volunteer management and decide which form of volunteering to offer to employees.

Volunteers can choose to participate in person—this is field volunteering. This involves physical projects and programs to benefit the community, whether as an individual or as a team. Volunteering opportunities break workplace hierarchies and team silos so everyone can get ready to dive in.

Another way in which employees can volunteer their time to nonprofits is virtually. This consists in getting involved from afar; here are some examples:

  • admin work
  • home phone banking
  • conducting surveys
  • managing volunteer projects

It allows employees to contribute to causes and projects without stepping outside.

Finally, and our focus for today, is skills-based volunteering. Here, employees use their talent and knowledge to help the community—read on for more.

What is skills-based volunteering?

Skills-based volunteering consists of employees using their professional experience and expertise on a pro bono basis to help the community with nonprofit organizations. It’s a time commitment made by many companies looking to leverage their skill sets to create social impact.

Skills-based volunteering opportunities use professional skills to offer pro bono support in many ways, such as:

  • Mentoring or coaching youth or other beneficiaries to achieve career goals
  • Translating documents or a website
  • Leadership development  
  • Preparing communications like external newsletters or designing a brochure
  • Finding new fundraising sources or preparing grant proposals
  • Reviewing legal contracts
  • Conducting an IT audit of technology used

As you can see, there are many ways in which employees can use their core skills to help nonprofit organizations. The organization’s resources and knowledge are essential in helping nonprofits to serve the community.

Skill-Based Volunteering Characteristics

Overall, skill-based volunteering has three main characteristics:

1. It’s remote

Since you don’t need to be physically present, you’re no longer limited by geography, which increases the number of volunteering projects available. You can choose the nonprofit organizations that focus on the causes you care about most. 

It’s ideal for anyone with unconventional working hours, such as shift workers, those who live in remote areas, or anyone who prefers to volunteer from home. Given recent years, companies are constantly looking for creative ways to boost employee morale from home, and skills-based volunteering is a fantastic way to do exactly that.

You can fit it into your schedule even if you’re traveling for work or are physically unavailable to participate in person.

2. It’s based on skills and expertise

As its name suggests, it’s based on the word itself—skills. Whether a professional skill or a hobby, it can be a valuable asset to nonprofits. A skills-based volunteering program relieves many nonprofits’ pressures, dedicating their limited resources to skills-based tasks.

For example, a development director has a different set of skills than a software engineer. A small nonprofit organization is likely to have the former and not the latter to keep overhead costs down. Here, the software engineer can provide expertise and knowledge that the nonprofit otherwise lacks.

It’s using the specific skills employees have on pro-bono projects to create social impact.

3. It has a specific time frame

Skills-based projects can be divided into multiple groups: micro-volunteering, short-term, mid-term, and long-term projects.

For example, it could vary from a 30-minute translation, a 3-week project to set up a dashboard of KPIs, or a 3-month mentoring program for its beneficiaries.

We see a significant move toward micro-volunteering projects, which are usually between 30 minutes to a couple of hours of volunteering.

A survey from the UK National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) found that lack of time was the number one impediment to continued volunteering. With a remote, time-bound option, this can increase the pool of volunteers available to help and retain existing volunteers. 

These factors make skills-based volunteering an interesting, flexible option for all to help nonprofits in need, particularly while at home.

3 Benefits of skills-based volunteering for your company

Skills-based, virtual volunteering has many benefits for employees, businesses, and nonprofits. With that in mind, here are three ways skills-based volunteering is good for your business. 

It builds leadership

As employees volunteer on a project, they are practicing and developing their leadership skills. They will face challenges and obstacles they might not face at work and develop themselves personally and professionally.

And you need talent like that in your company. 

It creates an interconnected and strong workplace culture

Another benefit of skills-based volunteering is that your employees from different sectors, teams, and verticals can start working on a project together. This creates a strong interpersonal bond and creates a great workplace culture of caring about social responsibility and the community.

It builds your employer brand

We are living in the age of purpose and businesses today need to have more than just a good salary and short-lived perks. Employees want to act and make a positive difference in the world

According to Glassdoor, 95% of job seekers surveyed said that a company’s reputation impacts their decision. Over 40% of people have stopped doing business with a company based on their stands on social issues—nevermind working for them.

Trust in all information sources is at a record low and business has become the only trusted institution. Employee volunteer opportunities are key in maintaining trust in the values and mission of business.

3 Ways skills-based volunteering is good for your employees

Skills-based volunteering has many benefits for employees, too.

1. Improves mental health

Meaningful activity is the key to a sense of life’s purpose, and the effect is improved mental health. Studies have found out that it does more than just improve it; it is the cause of good mental health. 

Research found that volunteering has favorable effects on mental health, with the after effect being described by researchers as a ‘warm glow’. This is especially true for those aged 16-25 and 55-74 due to the social connections and new skills that are often both discovered through volunteering.

It is particularly beneficial in nurturing a sense of gratitude, which also makes us feel more connected to others, happier, and gives us a greater sense of belonging

The benefits of gratefulness are endless, from having more social capital (those who were 10% more grateful than average had 17.5% more social capital) and improving physical health to enhancing empathy and improving sleep.

2. Connects you to others

Volunteering is a win-win—the more you give, the more you receive. Nowhere is this better seen than in creating new connections with the people whom you volunteer with. Dedicating your time to volunteer helps you: 

  • Meet new people and co-workers: Both with the people you volunteer with on a project and the people you work for on a project.  
  • Expand your network: This helps you both socially and professionally. You expand the group of people you know, which enables plenty of opportunities for new volunteering opportunities, friends, and even travel plans to a specific country.
  • Boost your social skills: Nothing boosts your social skills like committing to a shared activity together. You’re in it and you have to make it work. It’s not always easy, especially when you work remotely and have to communicate with people from different cultures. 

3. Develops soft skills

Soft skills are a combination of people, social, and communication skills with emotional intelligence. 

Soft skills development is significant overall since they have a massive impact on both one’s personal and professional life. Some of the benefits of developing soft skills include: 

  • The ability to self-motivate
  • Becoming better at conflict resolution
  • Communicating in a clear and crisp way
  • Being focused on problem-solving
  • Flexibility
  • Learning how to work under pressure and time constraints

It’s not always easy to get an opportunity to develop these traits in the business world, but there are opportunities in the volunteering world where you can develop these skills. 

76% of volunteers said they developed core work skills during their times as volunteers. To thrive in the workplace, developing soft skills becomes essential for employees.

Making contributions in a flexible way

Skills-based volunteering isn’t just a great benefit for companies and employees. It invigorates the soul, as an employee of one of our corporate partners, said:

“The opportunity to feel useful for the community and give a small part of my personal time to help a cause I care about. It is not always so easy when you are a busy professional to find the right time and the right opportunities to give back… I have the opportunity to make contributions in a flexible way.”

Or as Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.

Skills-based Volunteering FAQs

What is skills-based volunteering?

Skills-based volunteering can be defined as when a volunteer uses their knowledge and abilities to benefit a worthy cause pro-bono, often completed virtually in discrete periods of time.

Why is skills-based volunteering important?

Because it has many benefits for employees, businesses, and nonprofits. Also, it can help develop empathetic leadership, a better workplace culture, and a stronger brand.

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