Drawing on Skills-Based Volunteerism to Meet Organizational Needs in a Time of Change
As we navigate a pandemic, a long-overdue racial reckoning, and a very real shift in the way we work and live, nonprofits are continually rethinking how they deliver on their missions. This is a moment – amidst the confluence of these challenges — when many nonprofits are redefining their strategies, operations and culture to meet their mission promise in the context of an uncertain future.
Skills-based volunteering can be of critical support to nonprofits in the current environment, enabling them to take a step back from their current context and envision the future. It is an opportunity for social impact organizations to leverage expert experience without drawing on strapped budgets or scrambling for temporary staffing support to address immediate needs, such as crisis response, financial reforecasting, hiring and training, technology support, and marketing pivots. At the same time, skills-based volunteering allows individuals and businesses to invest their unique talents toward strengthening nonprofits and the communities they serve. Skilled volunteers can also help organizations as they contend with staffing transitions during the Great Resignation and longer-term strategic planning to best position themselves for the future.
In a key period of growth during Dorri McWhorter’s tenure as CEO, YWCA Metropolitan Chicago leveraged skills-based volunteering to create efficiencies for its hard-working staff, and to develop outreach and marketing strategies to help reach more potential clients and supporters. Teams of skilled volunteers helped to develop an individual donor cultivation strategy and a vendor selection approach for technology to support their business development efforts. Another team built a digital marketing strategy for a new child care center in order to attract families and appeal to potential funders.
At the YWCA, skills-based volunteering enabled Dorri and her team to draw on expertise that they didn’t have internally, and that was significantly more accessible than sourcing and hiring external services. It gave the organization the opportunity to invest in projects that drove the mission forward without taking attention away from other critical work and everyday responsibilities.
The YWCA developed the parameters of the projects, and recruited and managed the volunteer consultants who had direct experience in solving challenges in these areas, identifying teams of volunteers from Charles Schwab with expertise in project management, requirements and web development, UX and SEO to deliver actionable expertise to the YWCA team.
YWCA’s experience in that case has helped inform key decisions in technology systems utilization and marketing and outreach strategies. These skills-based volunteer engagements have become something the organization can count on to deliver value, and also contribute to learning and development for internal teams.
Dorri has since assumed a new position as CEO of the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago where she anticipates drawing on skills-based volunteering to support the development of new financial models for early learning and the evolution of YMCA’s fitness centers to reimagine services beyond fitness and also better integrate technology. Dorri is committed to skills-based volunteering which helps the YMCA assess the changing landscape and accelerates the creation of better solutions and processes to meet today’s environment. As Dorri says, “Skills-based volunteering keeps us tuned in to a rapidly evolving world and makes sure we’re not left behind.”
Nonprofits of all sizes and mission areas can benefit from skills-based volunteering, whether it be for strategy development, tactical project execution, or simply for new perspectives and insights. Consider where your staff could use a capacity boost or an injection of expertise, or where infrastructure or a longstanding system needs an overhaul to keep up with the way your programs work now. When you leverage skills-based volunteers — whether for a quick-hit need or a more robust project — the two-way learning can lead to deep and meaningful change in your organization and community, as well as for the volunteers and their sponsoring employer.
Dorri McWhorter is the CEO of YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago, a 150-year old organization that develops strong children, families, and communities through academic readiness, character development, violence prevention, fitness and healthy living. She also serves as a member of the Common Impact board of directors.