Foundations interested in helping nonprofit grantees build capacity can choose from many potential routes to accomplish those goals. From direct technical assistance to grant-funded consultant support, many funders grapple with the best approach to providing much-needed support to their pool of grantees.
A skills-based volunteer program presents a rich opportunity for foundations to provide operating support to grantees in any number of professional areas, including marketing, finance, board development, and web development. Occupying a distinctive place on the spectrum of volunteerism, skills-based volunteerism falls somewhere between traditional volunteers participating in program execution (painting a school mural or serving food to the hungry, for example) and nonprofit consultants whose sole responsibility is to help organizations strategize solutions to key challenges. In this line-up, skills-based volunteerism is the proverbial middle child – often overlooked but brewing with potential.
By leveraging the talents, expertise, and unique passions of professionals, skills-based volunteerism has the power to be a strong community-building tool. Particularly for community foundations and geographically-focused funders, connecting local professionals with local nonprofits presents an opportunity to foster community relationships that extend far beyond daylong volunteer engagements and annual fundraising events.
When community members volunteer their skills with local nonprofits, they build relationships with local nonprofit leaders while digging more deeply into organizational challenges. The designer who helps an organization revamp its website or the database engineer who supports an organization through a Salesforce overhaul can see the fruits of their labor through increased traffic to the site or more comprehensive donor management processes. These initiatives have an exponential impact on organizations, helping them grow their program capacity and their impact in the community.
By volunteering their skills to support a nonprofit, local professionals also gain a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by the institutions supporting their communities. It’s a perspective that turns skills-based volunteers into donors, spurring local funding and providing an otherwise elusive solution to the problem of building local momentum for community-oriented foundations.
Engaging young donors
While this principle applies to communities as a whole, it is particularly significant as some foundations assess how to incorporate younger donors into their portfolios. Studies show that millennials prioritize purpose in their lives and work more than any preceding generation. If foundations want to engage younger generations in giving, they must tap this drive for purpose to help foster more meaningful connections to nonprofits in their communities.
Skills-based volunteers provide an outlet for foundations to incorporate young professional talent into the work of nonprofits. Just as local community engagement facilitates a stronger connection with local institutions, meaningful volunteer experiences give millennials a higher stake in the work of the nonprofit sector. This can then serve as a gateway to financial contribution, as a personal connection to an institution is an influential factor when it comes to choosing where to donate.
Beyond community building for foundations, the direct merits of skills-based volunteerism expand to nonprofit capacity building, as well. It’s no secret that in order for nonprofits to successfully execute on their missions, they must have the proper building blocks in place to reach their goals: organizational strategy, marketing (to donors as well as program beneficiaries), and fundraising, along with seamless HR and accounting systems to keep an organization running.
Through skills-based volunteerism, nonprofits have access to volunteers whom they otherwise might not have been able to reach geographically, as online platforms like Catchafire allow nonprofits to forge remote partnerships that can translate into valuable long term results. As such, a strong skills-based volunteer program consists of strong talent, clear goals, and realistic timelines and expectations. These factors allow nonprofit leaders to effectively manage their skilled volunteers while being conscious of their own capacity and goals. Skills-based volunteers can then work off the plate of nonprofit staff while aligning their parameters for success with those of the nonprofit. Additionally, skilled volunteers can be a direct training resource for nonprofit staff. Junior and executive staff have the opportunity to learn from the experts who are lending their time, by shadowing and having a direct channel to someone who will answer their primary questions.
From offering a real time taste of the challenges community organizations face on a regular basis, to solving a nonprofit’s greatest organizational challenges, skills-based volunteerism offers invaluable benefits for both community-focused foundations and those with a broader geographic focus. Of the many ways foundations can support the organizations they fund, connecting grantees to skills-based volunteers is a unique and powerful approach for creating meaningful volunteer experiences that immediately translate into capacity-building results for grantees.
Dana Raviv is senior partnership manager at Catchafire, a New York City-based, for-purpose social mission business that makes skills-based connections between volunteers and nonprofit organizations. You can find them on Twitter at @Catchafire.