What is Skills-Based Volunteering?

Like most industries, the practice of corporate citizenship has a set of rules and unwritten codes. For example, there’s a general agreement that the path to deep community impact is through practicing strategic philanthropy. And you inherently know that you need to engage your co-workers with issues that are close to their hearts. You also know you don’t have the budget to make that happen, and if you could just get off those incessant conference calls ….

There are also some things that you’re expected to just know, but deep down you’re not sure if you have it right. So you do the best you can; you answer questions, hope you didn’t lead anyone astray, and get back to your conference calls.

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By Corey Diamond

Skills-based volunteering is one of those loosely defined areas of our practice that can sometimes confuse people. I have spoken to several practitioners about their definition of skills-based volunteering and the answers are all over the map. It made me think that if we’re going to advance this practice, we’d better agree on some basics.

So let’s answer the question: What is skills-based volunteering?


any time someone uses their abilities, talents, networks and resources to get a volunteering commitment completed.

This may or may not include pro bono volunteering, which takes a skill that is used every day in your job and applies it to work to address a complex social or environmental cause.

Points of Light suggests that skills-based volunteering comes in all shapes and sizes, including:

• Individual volunteers, corporate paid/unpaid volunteers, loaned executives, interns
• Projects completed in a day; short, medium or longterm projects
• Activities performed during working hours or on individual time
• Planned in advance or spontaneous projects such as disaster response
• Application of all types of skills and talents from professional experience to hobbies
• Content from nonprofit infrastructure efficiency effort to direct “in the field” projects
• Local impact to national and international

Why It’s Important

Most companies see the value in harnessing the power of their employees to support community issues. The days of trotting out the CEO to hand out an oversized cheque are being replaced by activities that are perceived as less newsworthy, such as accountants helping nonprofits develop spreadsheets and engineers teaching kids STEM education. Despite this, the Taproot Foundation reports that just 3% of nonprofits have access to the services they require.

Clearly, connecting your employees’ passions to the causes they care about can be fulfilled by tapping into their skills, not just their wallets. And the impact of the volunteer engagement can drive stronger community impact.

The role of the employer is key here. Remember that 75% of Americans don’t volunteer at all. Encouraging skills-based volunteering among your employee base regardless of whether it’s during work time can help bring that alarming statistic down. You now have another way to get people excited about getting involved in the community.

But skills-based volunteering isn’t for everyone. It is great for 2nd and 3rd stage volunteers but it is not as compelling for 1st stage volunteers. In fact, it can be overwhelming for first time volunteers and may prevent them from trying the program at all. It’s best to provide great experiences for first timers, and skills-based opportunities for those who are ready to try something that requires a little more commitment.


Some examples of companies supporting skills-based volunteering:

IBM Corporate Service Corps
This program increases IBM’s understanding and appreciation of growth markets while creating global leaders who are culturally aware and possess advanced teaching skills. The Corporate Service Corps offers a triple benefit: leadership development for IBMers, leadership training and development for communities, and greater knowledge and enhanced reputation in growth markets for IBM.

PepsiCorps is a skill-based volunteer program in which associates from around the world form teams that are deployed to help local communities address societal challenges. In 2012, associates from Lebanon, Pakistan, Spain, Turkey, the UAE, and the US participated in PepsiCorps, with one team working with a local community in India to improve and promote rainwater harvesting, while the other team worked with a Native American community in New Mexico to plan and build a community garden to encourage healthy eating habits.

In addition to its formal $50 million pro bono program, which enables Deloitte to serve the nonprofit sector just as it serves its clients, Deloitte has also pioneered a new model of executive management training for local nonprofit executives called the Deloitte Center for Leadership & Community (DCLC). Launched in 2007, it has been recreated in a number of Deloitte offices around the country including Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, San Jose, and Washington, D.C. To date, more than 300 executives have participated.


Here are three trends driving more skills-based volunteering globally:

1. Educating and Engaging
I recently spoke to a senior person at a high tech company who told me the perception is that skills-based volunteering is for “lawyers who do pro bono work”. She’s right. Most people don’t know that they even possess skills that can contribute to helping solve social and environmental issues. The best way to educate your co-workers about skills-based volunteering opportunities is to use your volunteer champions to spread the word. Encourage them to host a not-your-Grandma’s-same-old-volunteering lunch and learn; or better yet, bring some NGO partners in and explain the impact skills-based volunteering can have. But remember: carefully plan these sessions in concert with engaging people in a meaningful volunteer experience. It is difficult for us to absorb new knowledge if we haven’t yet experienced it.

2. The Role of HR
We’re big boosters of the strategic inclusion of HR professionals in volunteering. Incorporating skills-based volunteering in your basket of employee engagement offerings has a spinoff effect that fits nicely with HR’s priorities. If you haven’t already, buy your HR director a coffee and see how you can knit your programs together.

3. Integration
The best corporate citizenship programs seamlessly integrate all elements to encourage as many people as possible to participate. Salesforce.com does this extremely well by connecting their product donations to opportunities for NGOs to access employees as mentors. More than 23,000 nonprofits have received free Salesforce.com products and have accessed more than 8,000 hours of employee time to help use the tool.

Now that you’re up to speed on the power of skills-based volunteering, we’d love to hear how you’re going to use it to drive social change in your part of the world. If you’re using it already, tell us about that too. Leave us a comment or drop us a line via contact@realizedworth.com and keep the conversation going. You can also connect with us on Twitter and Facebook.

Corey Diamond
Partner, Business Operations
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