Monday, May 4, 2009

Tapping the Skilled Volunteer Pool

I've been trying to volunteer more. So far this year I've hacked away vines and bushes along a San Francisco sidewalk, planted native shrubs in the Palo Alto wetlands, and distributed food to needy families in Daly City. I've learned a lot about ways to serve the community, and the experiences have made me think about the way non-profits are run. I've seen some effective non-profits and some not-so-effective ones too.

Based on my experiences I have developed an idea. Given the state of our economy and number of people out of work, non-profits can improve their operations by tapping the pool of highly skilled workers who are unemployed. There are scores of marketers, salespeople, designers, financial planners, consultants, programmers and engineers are out there waiting by their phones, scanning job boards and wasting away watching Tivo. While finding a job should be their top priority, I think unemployed professionals would jump at the chance to help non-profits if opportunities were presented the right way. Here are some suggestions:

1. Make them easy to find
There are some great online resources for people to find volunteer opportunities. In the San Francisco Bay Area, organizations such as Hands On Bay Area and One Root have searchable databases that allow people to sign up for an event online. Other national organizations such as USA Service are pretty good too. Most of these events are focused on unskilled, but essential, work to help their cause. What if non-profits posted needs for professional services?

2. Offer projects
Demand for professional services should be packaged as projects rather than one-timers or open-ended engagements. Unemployed professionals are afraid to make long-term commitments, fearing time away from focusing on their job search, and one-timers would offer marginal benefit to non-profits. A specific engagement with a clear idea of time commitment and duration would help people balance their schedules and manage their resources better.

3. Build skills
Many unemployed professionals don't realize volunteering can build skills that make them more appealing to potential employers. Let's say a non-profit needs help in building out a fund raising plan. Highlighting the skills one could develop (strategy, negotiation, marketing) offers a clear motivation for volunteers.

4. Give recommendations

Once the project is over, offer to write them recommendations on their Linkedin profile. It's a fair value exchange. They offer skilled professional services for free, non-profits offer an added bonus to the volunteer's online resume.

What do you think? Do you have any ideas about how non-profits can take advantage of this skilled labor glut to help them improve their operations? Write a comment below.


  1. I read through your article and I wanted to let you know about a Year Round Fundraising tool that could be a fun new innovative way for your Organization to generate revenue. A organization i'm involved recently had a Branded Online Shopping Website created for their organization. The site has given all of their members a place to do all of their online shopping.

    Every purchase benefits the organization through whats called Emedded Giving (Where a portion of a purchase goes to a organization) This has allowed groups to still generate revenue when their members have less money to donate.

    Anyways, you can learn more about it at

    Here is a look at how the Shopping Site works for a shopper

    If you have any ?'s, feel free to contact me at:
    Jason Switzer
    619 631 4277