How to Work with Skill-Based Volunteers

This week LinkedIn launched a new volunteer marketplace where nonprofit organizations can post volunteer opportunities. In addition to board positions and program opportunities, LinkedIn is encouraging organizations to solicit pro bono help from experts in marketing, web development, and even architecture.

As the Taproot Foundation points out, this kind of pro bono service by people with specialized skills is nothing new. What is new, however, is the kind of spotlight a huge company like LinkedIn can put on pro bono service

As someone who has used my skills on several pro bono projects, I'm excited to see more people and organizations recognize that there are high impact ways to donate time and energy to an organization that aren't stuffing envelopes or picking up litter (though those things are useful too!)

Some of my pro bono projects have been great experiences that helped me build my skills and network. Some of the others have been... less than great. To share some of what made the great experiences great, here are my tips for organizations looking to get the most out of skill-based volunteers:

  • Have a targeted project in mind, or at least a specific question you need help answering. Keep in mind that this is likely to be a limited engagement, so the more focused you can be , the more effectively you can utilize your volunteer's time.
  • Don't treat volunteers like staff. You can't expect them to work on short deadlines, put in extra time and effort beyond what you agreed to, or force them to navigate disorganization and chaos to contribute. (In fact, you shouldn't do this to your staff either, but that's a post for another day.) Set them up for success with clear guidance, generous deadlines, and well-organized information.
  • Compensate them. Yes, they're volunteers, but there are lots of non-monetary ways you can compensate them:

Recommendations

Referrals

Introductions

Giving them permission to use the work they do for you in their portfolio

Paying them for future work if you have a need for it and the ability to pay

Provide them with feedback and learning opportunities

  • Show your gratitude. If I have to tell you to say thank you, you don't deserve your volunteers. But also think about how you could go beyond verbal thanks. What about a hand-written card articulating the value of their contributions or a comped ticket to your annual gala or next cool event?

I've also got some advice for those on the other end: the volunteers. Check out my post here.