Skills-based volunteering can help support nonprofits during pandemic

Putting your skills to work to help keep nonprofits viable

COVID-19 continues to hit nonprofits hard. At least 83 percent of nonprofits report a drop in revenue through June, and 71 percent say this means they can’t continue to provide all the services they were providing before the start of the pandemic.

Meantime, nonprofits dropped more than 1.6 million people from their payrolls from March through May, according to estimates from Johns Hopkins University. That’s about 13 percent of all nonprofit jobs in America.

With nonprofit resources being stretched to their limits, it is more important than ever to find ways of maximizing the impact of volunteerism.

Skills-based volunteering—using the particular skill or talent of an individual to help strengthen a nonprofit organization’s infrastructure—is one way nonprofits are meeting some of the many challenges they face.

Meeting Talent Challenges

Jennifer Lawson is chief civic innovation officer at Points of Light, a global nonprofit organization that inspires, equips, and mobilizes millions of people to take action that changes the world. She tells WorkingNation that skills-based volunteering can help alleviate some of the financial resource issues faced by nonprofits and now is the time to put those skills to work.

“The nonprofit sector is historically under-resourced across the board, whether that’s financial resources or staff capacity, and skills-based volunteering can really address the under-resourced aspect of that nonprofit. In fact, 60 percent of nonprofit staffs are typically staffed by volunteers, whether that’s board members or folks who do work for the nonprofit, there’s actual staff capacity that is met through the volunteer,” Lawson says.

She has some suggestions on how you can put your skills to use. “If you are a marketing and design person, designing a brochure or a web page or a series of social media posts for a nonprofit, you can help them to deliver products and services to the community without having to invest dear financial resources to that cause.”

Big Businesses are Helping Nonprofits in These Difficult Times

Corporate America is becoming a major resource for skill-based volunteers. Companies are finding it to be good business to be philanthropically engaged in their communities. They are also finding volunteerism is a big draw when it comes to hiring and retaining employees.

“Strong volunteer programs that give folks that direct connection to their community through volunteering can be an excellent way to recruit people,” says Lawson. “And it can also be a way to retain people because skills-based volunteering gives people a chance to try new skills, to build on a skill that they have to demonstrate increased responsibility.”

“So if you’re a more junior employee and you’re looking to prove that you’ve got the management skills to move up in the organization, a volunteer project where you’re managing peers, managing logistics, managing deadlines, delivering a product that represents your brand to a nonprofit partner are all terrific ways to build credibility and skill while doing good in the community. And what we know is when employees feel like they are supported by their company, that their company is engaged in community, then it could help with retaining that worker in a competitive work hiring environment.”

Lawson says skills-based volunteering can also help develop a diverse workforce through mentorship. She cites Prudential Financial Services’ work with Year Up as an example. Prudential brings in young people from underprivileged and diverse backgrounds and pairs them with a Prudential partner, training them in building and real estate, providing education, hands-on experience, and networking.

Watch our WorkingNation video on the Year Up program here.

“And for that young person who’s looking to build a career, it’s a terrific onboarding experience because oftentimes that young person doesn’t have a network that they can rely on. They don’t have a college. Their dad’s buddy can’t set them up in a workplace. And so, these mentorship relationships, this working closely with the brand and with its employees really helps to give that young person a stronger network and a stronger basis for building a career.”

Lawson says a Points of Light survey of the 50 most civic-minded U.S. companies found that 25 percent of the volunteer hours are skill-based hours.

“It tells you how important companies think this type of volunteering is for representing the brand, for really representing the authentic value that a company can have to serving its community.”

COVID-19 has forced people to cut back on the amount of in-person volunteering they do. But Lawson notes that some skills-based volunteering can be done virtually and often easier than doing it face-to-face. It has even prompted some companies to get creative with their volunteer offerings.

One company, India-based TATA Consultancy Services, has used its call center expertise to set up a tech support hotline for parents navigating their children’s online schooling, and tasks like logging into Zoom.

“So, using the skills and talents of the organization in a really unique way, it doesn’t have to stop with the pandemic,” says Lawson.

Interested in work in the nonprofit field? Read more WorkingNation articles, see more videos, and listen to our Work in Progress podcasts here.