This is a guest post from Marjorie Ringrose, Director of Social Impact at Social Venture Partners Boston.
While it uncomfortably discounts the tremendous joy and value that comes with volunteering, there’s a volunteer-to-fundraising calculus that nonprofit and philanthropic leaders intuitively understand. People who volunteer for an organization are more likely to donate to it. They give larger contributions and donate more often and for longer periods of time than those who don’t volunteer.
One-in-four American adults volunteer with nonprofits, but few nonprofits use skilled volunteers as well as they could. Only 15% report volunteering their professional and management expertise. Most serve food, tutor children and provide transportation. These are certainly vitally important, but there is clearly more room for skilled volunteering. Why isn’t there more?
Is it because volunteers don’t want to offer their professional skills? No. The longevity of engaged philanthropy, the growth of corporate voluntarism, and LinkedIn’s more than four million members wanting do skills-based volunteering and/or join a board demonstrate professionals’ desire to volunteer their skills.
Is it because nonprofits don’t need people to volunteer their professional skills? Not generally. According to Taproot, two-thirds of nonprofits say they need pro bono help in areas requiring skill, such as marketing, human resources, and information technology.
Rather, it’s because many nonprofits don’t use their skills-based volunteers efficiently or effectively.
What a lost opportunity. Nonprofits miss out on valuable skills that could help strengthen and grow their organizations. And they miss out on engaging a population of volunteers that is not only sizable, but can also be significant and lasting donors.
Yes, identifying and engaging skills-based volunteers with the right professional experience and personality is hard. Finding and managing complex, lengthy skills-based projects is time consuming.
Organizations operating with an engaged (or venture) philanthropy model, which focus on donations of time as well as money, have practices in place to address this. Groups such as Social Venture Partners, New Profit Inc., Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, among others, have mobilized countless hours of skills-based volunteering for their beneficiaries and have, in many cases, secured those very volunteers as their own reliable donor base.
How do these organizations do it? They bring carefully vetted skilled volunteers to a small number of carefully selected nonprofits. They put the volunteers to work in carefully designed and managed projects that often get at the nonprofits’ most critical business challenges. They seek nonprofits who devote resources to stewarding these volunteers and with leaders who bravely expose their stress points and welcome volunteer involvement.
Effective use of skilled volunteers creates a virtuous cycle. Nonprofits get precious resources focused on their most pressing needs, volunteers feel like they are making a meaningful difference because they are being asked to do important work, in turn creating the deep commitment that can lead to even more (and more effective) volunteering and to significant, lasting contributions. Ultimately, it’s an authentic partnership that creates great value for everyone.
Marjorie Ringrose, Director of Social Impact at Social Venture Partners Boston, brings nearly 100 skilled volunteers and 3,500 hours of pro bono counsel annually to some of Boston’s best nonprofits @SVPBoston