Skills-based Volunteerism: It’s Good for Business

Posted by Jess Chipkin - 03 July, 2013

By Jessica Chipkin

Carol Cone, known as the “Mother of Cause Marketing” was right.

Back in 2010, she claimed that simply “slapping a ribbon” on another product, website, or advertisement, was considered inauthentic by U.S. consumers.

Corporate Social Responsibility

Ribbon fatigue in the United States had set in. In its place, the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) community seized the opportunity and began promoting skills-based volunteerism, which focuses around leveraging a company’s core competencies to make a lasting, positive difference in the community.

Nonprofits and businesses face similar operational and strategies challenges, including tweaking financial systems, getting the most out of their technology and finding the right person to fill an important position. While nonprofits do really important work, however, they often don’t have the resources to bring specialists aboard.

Skills-based volunteerism fills the gap by giving nonprofits access to a wide variety of professional services firms, which helps to meet the day-to-day and long-term operational and strategic challenges they face.

The Business Case

Although employee participation in charity marathons and food drives is certainly admirable, asking employees to use their professional skills to solve a nonprofit’s pressing business problems will generate more results. These include:

  • Attracting and retaining employees with a creative perk that provides a meaningful way to give back.
  • Strengthening teams by stretching them to navigate different kinds of challenges in different environments.
  • Supporting the brand promise by providing a public venue to walk-the-talk.
  • Deepening relationships with clients and prospects, which likely are trying to give back for the same reasons you are.

Getting Started

Geneca’s skills-based volunteerism program, Projects with Purpose, is our way to give back to the community by sharing expertise in one of the ways we know best: Understanding the business value of technology. By helping nonprofits understand technology's role in fulfilling their missions, they’re able to better serve their members and make a stronger impact in the community.

Projects with Purpose officially kicked off in January 2013. In launching the program, we occasionally got off track. But we forged ahead, found ways to improve our program and the process eventually resulted in the following best practices for skills-based volunteerism:

  1. Gather a passionate team of influencers. Make your team as diverse as possible in terms of role, level of responsibility and other demographics.
  2. Build the business case and get executive buy-in. Clearly illustrate how your program helps the community, gives employees another reason to have pride in their company and can earn a thumbs up from clients.
  3. Define your offering. Make sure you have a well-defined pro bono offering that has a clear end point and highlights your core expertise.
  4. Decide which nonprofits to help. Consider partnering with an organization like Lumity, a nonprofit consulting firm, for help.
  5. Put your internal processes in place. While enthusiasm and goodwill go a long way, this initiative requires thoughtful planning. Will your company match “release time” with personal time? How many projects a year will you do? Do you have a way to promote upcoming projects? How will you measure program’s success?
  6. Brand it. Give your initiative a powerful name. Design a logo. Bring it to life and then communicate the hell out of it.
  7. Create buzz. Do frequent internal communications and use social media to stay top-of-mind with employees.
  8. Organize an internal launch. Once all your ducks are in a row, invite all employees to a launch presentation. Make a big deal out of it and be sure company leaders attend to demonstrate your program has support from the top.
  9. Think ahead. Once your program is up and running, it is up to you to make sure it delivers the value you expect. This requires a tactical plan to build awareness within the community, media and business network.
  10. Recognize volunteers and celebrate achievements. Make sure every volunteer is recognized and made to feel valued for their contribution. Consider having a special event at the end of the year to honor volunteers and the nonprofits they helped.

If you’re thinking a skills-based volunteer program sounds like a lot of work, you’re right -- it is. Take your time, be patient and know from the outset that an effective program requires thoughtful collaboration and alignment. You are navigating new waters, so hang in there and enjoy the journey. In time, the benefits will become undeniably compelling and your efforts will give your co-workers and your company a unique and powerful way to make a difference in other people’s lives.


To continue the conversation, contact us.

Topics: Business, Innovation, Organizational Leaders, Software Product Development, Work and Lead Better

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