In this article we cover the most important information on skills-based volunteering, including:
- What is skills-based volunteering
- Benefits of skills based volunteering
- What is a skills based volunteer
There's a real talent to putting together a crack team of volunteers that extends beyond an enthusiastic and engaged group that's excited to get their collective hands dirty and help further your mission in the community. Volunteer leaders are so focused on the daily operations of their mission that they don't think about whether they are deploying each volunteer to their highest and best use for the organization.
Skill based volunteering
Matching a volunteer's talents to their assignment in your organization is a win-win—they have responsibilities they are well-equipped to handle, and you harness their expertise in areas that may be well out of your budget range if you had to hire that talent and experience. This philosophy is called skill-based volunteering, and is considered an optimal approach to getting the most from your volunteer team.
What is skills-based volunteering?
This approach to volunteer management is known as skills-based volunteering (SBV). It's a simple and self-explanatory concept—placing your individuals in positions that require their unique skills and experience. The most well-known example of this type of volunteering is Doctors Without Borders—an international group of doctors, nurses, and other health professionals who donate their time and talents to underserved areas around the world, regardless of geopolitical concerns. College graduates with degrees in fields such as sustainability and environmental engineering are volunteering for the Peace Corps, while newly-minted teachers are filling up the Teach for America program.
On a more local level, a graphic designer brings a very specific talent to your organization that's expensive to contract outside. Musicians and artists on your team can put together concerts and art shows as fundraisers, or mentor children in the community who are interested in the arts.
A good definition of SBV is this; you're placing volunteers in an authoritative or educational position. In turn, they are able to communicate some of those skills to your team and community. In the winter of every year, for instance, thousands of active and retired CPAs donate their professional skills to helping people complete their income tax forms. In other instances, retired teachers tutor adults in the computer skills they need to find a better job.
These are some other examples of skills based volunteering.
- A horticulturist advises and assists in planting and maintaining a community garden
- A professional writer teaches volunteers how to write grants
- A doctor sets up EMT training certification for your team
- A coach gets a sporting goods store to provide equipment for a summer camp
As you see, skills-based volunteering harnesses your team's individual expertises. Almost anyone has a special talent that they can bring to the table.
What is a skills based volunteer ?
There's no real difference in the skills of a garden-variety volunteer who walks through the door and a designated SBV, but here are some of the ways you can leverage any person's skill set into something more targeted. One of the hidden benefits of skills-based volunteering is that it frees up your committee chairmen from detailed instructions and lets them get on with the work.
The building blocks for an SBV corps start with the right software to track and match your volunteers and projects. A comprehensive suite of software tools helps you keep your team engaged with interesting projects, which also contributes to deeper ties to your organization and positively impacts that all-important retention ratio.
Some projects need people who are handy (and safe) around power tools, while others need a team that's patient with kids with learning disabilities. Finding the right people for these placements is the first step in creating a skilled volunteer base.
When you have experts involved in your projects, the chances of success increase dramatically. If you are eligible for a particular grant, for instance, an experienced writer stands a much better chance of turning in a polished and comprehensive proposal than someone with limited expertise.
Tips from an organization based on SVB
There is one national organization that stands out as a role model for skills based volunteering benefits—the Junior Leagues all across the US. This organization exists to volunteer; going into underserved areas of the community as well as non-stop active fundrasing. When a new memer joins the League in her community, she (it's still a women's organization) completes a questionnaire about her professional experience, as well as previous volunteer work. Various committee chairmen review the relevant questionnaires for their committees, and choose placements based on the new member's areas of expertise.
If you're not familiar with the Junior League, it's an entirely volunteer organization all over the country, and some chapters in large cities have thousands of members. In any given year, a League chapter will place attorneys in a guardian ad litem program, put on a talent show fundraiser, publish a cookbook, and operate a thrift shop. They can accomplish all this with nothing but volunteers because they recruit a wide range of skills and talents among the women of the community, and use those talents in the most impactful way.
Benefits of skills based volunteering
If you decide to adopt the SBV approach, you'll save your organization in hard cash by offering volunteers who can take over some paid tasks–this is on top what you'd pay unskilled labor to do mundane chores for the organization. Consider what you'd pay a skilled graphic designer to design a new logo for your organization. If you have someone with those skills on your volunteer roster, why not harness that free labor to create your new materials?
Benefits for the volunteers
One of the great unintended consequences of volunteering is the opportunity to network. Volunteers who are involved with an SBV approach not only gain skills and experience in their field when they're working with your group; they're also building connections for their future. Many volunteers are college students or recent college graduates who are looking to build their professional networks via community service.
Using the skills based volunteers method is an organic way to assess your entire volunteer corps for future leadership positions within the organization. When you're managing people for the future, look at their contemporary performance in creativity, teamwork, and organization. Volunteers who have had wide-ranging experiences within the team, combined with strong communication, decision-making, and leadership skills, are often targeted for board positions.