Everything you need to know about skills-based volunteering (#1 – it’s virtual)

Stéphanie Grawehr April 29, 2020

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

A couple of months ago, it was probably tied to an annual community day or team building  to go out directly on the field, spending time physically present with beneficiaries or out on the terrain, like a river bank or natural park. In today’s world, this looks a little bit different. A little more virtual.

This is where virtual, skills-based volunteering comes in. Many companies have reoriented their volunteering programs toward this type of flexible, impactful volunteering. 

 In this article, we will cover:

  • What is skills-based volunteering?
  • Benefits of skills-based volunteering for your company
  • Benefits of skills-based volunteering for your employees

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, often completed virtually in discrete periods of time.

It is often used interchangeably with pro bono volunteering.

A couple of examples are:

  • Mentoring or coaching youth or other beneficiaries to enter the professional world,
  • Translating documents or a website,
  • Creating a financial plan,  
  • 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.

To summarise, there is a lot of variety in the types of projects, but it comes down to three 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 options available. You can choose the nonprofit organisations that address the causes you deeply care about. It’s ideal for anyone with unconventional working hours, such as shift workers, lives in remote areas, or prefers to volunteer from home. You can fit it into your schedule even if you’re traveling for work or are physically unavailable to perform the task, like in today’s circumstances.

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 who can dedicate limited resources to overhead costs that would cover many of these tasks.

3. It has a specific time frame

Skills-based projects can be divided into multiple buckets: 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 volunteering has many benefits for employees, business, and nonprofits. With that in mind, here are three ways skills-based volunteering is good for your business. 

Builds leadership

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

And you need talent like that in your company. 

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 also creates a great workplace culture of caring about social responsibility and the community.

In companies with a corporate volunteering program, 89% of volunteers reported increased job satisfaction and 87% of volunteers reported feeling a greater sense of pride in the company.

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. In fact, the Institute for Volunteering Research found that 78 percent of those involved in skills-volunteering were between 16-34 years old making this particularly important for attracting and retaining millennials. or great talent that is hard to find, this is like a magnet that pulls them to you. 

3 ways skills-based volunteering is good for your employees

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

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. A study from 2013 showed that volunteering had favorable effects on depression, life satisfaction, and wellbeing. In fact, it’s even more effective for people who are above 40 years of age. 

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.

Connects you to others

Volunteering is a win-win— the more you give, the more you receive. And 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 also with the people who 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. In case you want to see the impact of your remote volunteering first-hand, it’s great to have someone at the ground site to walk you through all of it and show you around.
  • 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. And it’s not always easy, especially when you work remotely and have to communicate with people from different cultures. There will be a lot of misunderstanding but you will sort them all out and, in the process, boost your communication skills. 

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 it, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.

What’s next? Ebook: How to create a best-in-class Employee Purpose program in the new normal

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