Converting good intentions in to greater impact

Principles in Action, Principle 3: Principle 3: Recruit and Value Volunteers for Mission-Advancing Work

Principles in Action, Principle 3: Principle 3: Recruit and Value Volunteers for Mission-Advancing Work

By Brian Agnew, spring and summer 2014 Bank of America Service Leadership Fellow with Reimagining Service

Focus volunteer engagement on true community needs.  Nonprofits put substantial effort seeking financial resources to fill a high priority need, and this philosophy can also be applied to volunteer resources.  An important step in this process is for the community, or in many cases nonprofits, to gain clarity on what is most needed for impact, and designing volunteer opportunities to reflect the need.  Volunteer interests and/or availability should not drive the type of service provided; instead, community needs should direct the service provided and the “right” mix of volunteers should be recruited to fill appropriate roles.

Surveying signatories of the Reimagining Service principles, we asked how they integrate volunteers to real community needs, how they find skilled volunteers, and if they had advice on how to increase volunteer impact for other organizations. 

Matching Community Needs to Volunteer Skills

Deloitte LLP is a for-profit business that provides clients with audit, consulting, tax, risk management, and financial advisory services. On an annual basis, Deloitte also works with nonprofits to design and implement nearly 300 volunteer projects.  Each project is tailored to a nonprofit nominated by a Deloitte employee, giving volunteers’ ownership of the project.  Using their Volunteer Council, Deloitte employees vets project proposals seeking ideas that have strategic impact for organizations and often focus on similar services that are offered to their paying clients: leadership training, financial management, and organizational efficiency. Since the services offered to nonprofits mirror the work Deloitte does for its Fortune 500 clients, nonprofits are confident that the skills-based volunteers they receive will bring valuable results.  Employees take the lead on these volunteer projects, ensuring a vested interest in the success of the project and a personal tie to the mission of nonprofits they support.

This principle also raises the question about the type of volunteer roles – short term, ongoing, skills-based - that move an organization forward in achievement of mission-critical goals. In some cases, organizations welcome community members who can volunteer for any amount of time, and yet, this policy tends to be counterproductive.  For instance, it may not be the best match for a youth-serving organization to have volunteers cycle in and out after 10 hours of interacting with youth, given that youth benefit from consistency and the continuous need to screen, orient and train volunteers can sidetrack staff from performing other vital responsibilities.    

Making Volunteers Feel Valued

Deloitte made a conscious effort to move away from outsourcing volunteerism, instead allowing its practitioners to support causes they care about.  In addition to giving their employees more voice and connecting Deloitte to their interests, this also allows the employees to develop their skills in leadership, event planning, and human resources.  On their 2014 annual IMPACT Day, four employees took charge of planning and execution of 45 volunteer projects in the San Francisco Bay area alone.  One project was an intensive metrics and evaluation workshop with six local nonprofits; another project brought mentors to over a hundred high school students; yet another engaged three nonprofits in planning a future pro bono project from Deloitte; and still another flew 60 high school principals to Texas for a leadership development workshop provided by Deloitte leadership development professionals.

With 17 club locations across the county, the Boys & Girls Club of Fresno County engages with volunteers from the community, local high schools, and California State University (CSU) Fresno to help youth reach their full potential. The nonprofit encourages their volunteers to build relationships with the youth and then to come up with their own ideas for volunteer projects once volunteers have become knowledgeable about the needs of the organization.  Local company PomWonderful saw that a club location in a disadvantaged neighborhood was struggling, so they volunteered their time and money to revitalize the site, prior to the club’s high-demand summer season for at-risk teens. "We're like in awe. This doesn't happen at all. We've never experienced this. I've been here 15 years and this is the biggest thing that's hit Del Rey," said Rudy Matcham of the Boys and Girls Club about the visible contributions from the PomWonderful employees.

Final Thoughts

A representative from Deloitte emphasized the importance of humility when addressing community needs.  Ask the community or the organization what they need and how your organization can provide for those needs, whether that is by seeking out volunteers with specific skills or by offering specific skillsets to organizations that would benefit from the service.  This sentiment captures the spirit of Principle 3: collaborating with community and then creating volunteer opportunities that reflect the most-pressing needs.

Focus volunteer engagement on true community needs.  Nonprofits put substantial effort seeking financial resources to fill a high priority need, and this philosophy can also be applied to volunteer resources.  An important step in this process is for the community, or in many cases nonprofits, to gain clarity on what is most needed for impact, and designing volunteer opportunities to reflect the need.  Volunteer interests and/or availability should not drive the type of service provided; instead, community needs should direct the service provided and the “right” mix of volunteers should be recruited to fill appropriate roles.

Surveying signatories of the Reimagining Service principles, we asked how they integrate volunteers to real community needs, how they find skilled volunteers, and if they had advice on how to increase volunteer impact for other organizations. 

Matching Community Needs to Volunteer Skills 

Deloitte LLP is a for-profit business that provides clients with audit, consulting, tax, risk management, and financial advisory services. On an annual basis, Deloitte also works with nonprofits to design and implement nearly 300 volunteer projects.  Each project is tailored to a nonprofit nominated by a Deloitte employee, giving volunteers’ ownership of the project.  Using their Volunteer Council, Deloitte employees vets project proposals seeking ideas that have strategic impact for organizations and often focus on similar services that are offered to their paying clients: leadership training, financial management, and organizational efficiency. Since the services offered to nonprofits mirror the work Deloitte does for its Fortune 500 clients, nonprofits are confident that the skills-based volunteers they receive will bring valuable results.  Employees take the lead on these volunteer projects, ensuring a vested interest in the success of the project and a personal tie to the mission of nonprofits they support.

This principle also raises the question about the type of volunteer roles – short term, ongoing, skills-based - that move an organization forward in achievement of mission-critical goals. In some cases, organizations welcome community members who can volunteer for any amount of time, and yet, this policy tends to be counterproductive.  For instance, it may not be the best match for a youth-serving organization to have volunteers cycle in and out after 10 hours of interacting with youth, given that youth benefit from consistency and the continuous need to screen, orient and train volunteers can sidetrack staff from performing other vital responsibilities.    

Making Volunteers Feel Valued 

Deloitte made a conscious effort to move away from outsourcing volunteerism, instead allowing its practitioners to support causes they care about.  In addition to giving their employees more voice and connecting Deloitte to their interests, this also allows the employees to develop their skills in leadership, event planning, and human resources.  On their 2014 annual IMPACT Day, four employees took charge of planning and execution of 45 volunteer projects in the San Francisco Bay area alone.  One project was an intensive metrics and evaluation workshop with six local nonprofits; another project brought mentors to over a hundred high school students; yet another engaged three nonprofits in planning a future pro bono project from Deloitte; and still another flew 60 high school principals to Texas for a leadership development workshop provided by Deloitte leadership development professionals.

With 17 club locations across the county, the Boys & Girls Club of Fresno County engages with volunteers from the community, local high schools, and California State University (CSU) Fresno to help youth reach their full potential. The nonprofit encourages their volunteers to build relationships with the youth and then to come up with their own ideas for volunteer projects once volunteers have become knowledgeable about the needs of the organization.  Local company PomWonderful saw that a club location in a disadvantaged neighborhood was struggling, so they volunteered their time and money to revitalize the site, prior to the club’s high-demand summer season for at-risk teens. "We're like in awe. This doesn't happen at all. We've never experienced this. I've been here 15 years and this is the biggest thing that's hit Del Rey," said Rudy Matcham of the Boys and Girls Club about the visible contributions from the PomWonderful employees. 

Final Thoughts

A representative from Deloitte emphasized the importance of humility when addressing community needs.  Ask the community or the organization what they need and how your organization can provide for those needs, whether that is by seeking out volunteers with specific skills or by offering specific skillsets to organizations that would benefit from the service.  This sentiment captures the spirit of Principle 3: collaborating with community and then creating volunteer opportunities that reflect the most-pressing needs.