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.

installing siding on a house

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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IVCO Lima, 2014: We’ll Be There … Will You?

We attend a lot of conferences all over the world to learn from our peers, but often, like at this year’s IVCO, we go as speakers to share our experiences in the field. We hope to see you there!

Speaker at Business Conference and Presentation.

By Christine Johnston


IVCO, the annual conference on international volunteering, is being hosted in Lima, Peru, by the International Forum for Volunteering in Development (Forum), World University Service of Canada (WUSC), and the Center for International Study and Cooperation (CECI), October 19-22.

I will have the honour of attending and speaking at the conference this year along with high-ranking multi-sector delegates from all over the world involved in the field of international volunteering and development.

The theme for this year’s conference is Volunteering in a Convergent World: Fostering Cross-Sector Collaborations Towards Sustainable Development Solutions. This identifies with Realized Worth’s client work as well as its involvement in Impact 2030, the first private sector led initiative aiming to bring stakeholders from all sectors together to align corporate volunteer efforts with the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

3 Sessions Not to Miss

1) Post-2015 Volunteering Working Group Report on Forum Advocacy Work: Mainstreaming International Volunteering in the Post-2015 Development Agenda

On the morning of Monday, October 20th, Gill Greer, CEO of VSA and ExCom Member of Impact 2030, will be joined by Barbara Hogan, Director of International Volunteering at Cuso International, and Adjmal Dulloo (Post-2015 Agenda Working Group Volunteer, International Forum for Volunteering in Development) in speaking about current discussions surrounding the Post-2015 Development Agenda within UN, member states and civil society networks. Most markedly, the panelists will be exploring the possibility of a draft IVCO 2014 Lima declaration shaping the role of international volunteering contributions to the Post-2015 SDGs.

2) Innovative International Volunteering Programs to Engage the Business Sector in Sustainable Development

This is one of many exciting breakout sessions that the conference is offering this year. On the afternoon of Wednesday, October 22nd, this session will discuss the innovation potential FK Norway and Uniterra see that private sector partnerships offer for sustainable development initiatives. Among the 5 panelists will be the wonderful conference organizers Mary Beshai, Senior Advisor, Strategic Partnerships, WUSC, and Sylvain Matte, Senior Advisor, Strategic Partnerships, CECI. The discussion will be moderated by Gill Greer, who again brings a wealth of knowledge to the discussion herself.

3) Creating Shared Value: Myth or Reality?

Finally, I will be speaking on the morning panel on Wednesday, October 22nd, discussing the benefits and challenges of Shared Value as an innovative approach to international development. I will be joined by moderator Wendy Harris, CEO of CESO and fellow panelists Lelemba Phiri, Zambia Regional Director, Zoona, and Luis Eduardo Salcedo (COOFINEP, RIPRESS, y Asemblea Permanente de la Sociedad Civil por la paz) to discuss whether Shared Value is the best solution, or if there are better methods of value creation between society’s sectors and community.

What else?

There are many more incredibly interesting and dynamic sessions being offered at this year’s IVCO. Find the full conference schedule here.

Join us!

If you are now convinced that this is the can’t-miss event that it is, register here now.

If you can’t be with us in Lima, don’t forget to follow me on Twitter next week as I live-Tweet the conference. Also, stay tuned afterwards for my followup blog highlighting the lessons learned and dynamic discussions shared at IVCO.

Thoughts? Comment or send your questions below, email us via contact@realizedworth.com, or connect with us on Twitter and/or Facebook. We would love to hear from you!

Christine Johnston
Consultant, Project Manager, Realized Worth


Why CSR Strategies Fail: The Top 3 Myths

“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”… right?

I used to believe that the right plan would always yield the right result. Just follow the steps, stay the course, and celebrate the win. I then learned that people are unwieldy; if they don’t have a say in the plan, they won’t see how it pertains to them, and they don’t follow through. Easy solution: start with an environmental scan, adjust the plan to the people, and then you’re back on track – stay the course, celebrate the win.

But even after all that, my plans seemed to fail. And still, the problem seemed to be the people. I gave them a great plan, so why couldn’t they just fall in line?

Failure of a businessman due to crisis

By Angela Parker

3 (Supposed) Reasons CSR Strategies Fail

1. Senior Leadership

In a 2010 McKinsey survey of approximately 1800 respondents, more than 50% of the executives considered sustainable CSR to be “very” or “extremely” important. However, only 25% agree that it is a top priority for their CEOs and only 30% say their companies invest in sustainability or embed it in their business practices. - McKinsey Quarterly, March 2010

It’s true, if senior leadership is not supportive, strategic plans are likely to fail. I spoke recently to a large electronics company whose CEO is such an advocate of their CSR program that he sends personal, all-company emails asking employees to participate (he even shows up to events in a t-shirt, not a suit and tie!). Participation must be off the charts, right? Sadly, no. Employees feel strongly that the program “belongs to the company” and has nothing to do with them. In fact, one manager even hit “reply all” to the CEO’s email and asked to be removed from the list.

So is senior leadership really the problem?

2. Communications

If not senior leadership, then perhaps poor communications is the culprit. According to a recent study by the Project Management Institute, ineffective communications is the primary contributor to project failure one third of the time, and had a negative impact on project success more than half the time. 

For better or worse, CSR, in this case referred to as community involvement programs, tend to be event-based. Events require an extra measure of communications support, i.e., posters, email campaigns, website banners, and so on. Recently, I was excited to interview a selection of employees from an international corporation that had just completed a stellar communications campaign for their newly launched community involvement program. In the elevator on the way to interview number one, I asked the woman riding with me, “What do you think of [the company's] new volunteering and giving program?” She looked at me blankly for a moment before exclaiming, “Wow, we do volunteering? That’s great!”

Do even excellent communications plans fail to make the connection?

3. Resources

Even when senior leadership and communications don’t present problems, lack of resources is a barrier faced by nearly every community involvement strategy. The 2013 Cone Communications Global CSR Study states:

Companies are looking at how they can leverage their resources into volunteerism and community engagement in ways that make sense for the business and yield maximum impact. The return on that investment is essential.

Existing programs that are highly impactful, such as international volunteering led by organizations like those listed here, typically engage a very small percentage of employees. While the strategy is good, the engagement is narrow.

Does applying the bulk of resources to a narrow strategy ultimately limit impact?

(As a side note, I want to make it clear that applying core capacities to addressing social or environmental concerns is always preferred. What we are emphasizing here is that one massive program for a small number of people may be worth broadening.)

What Really Works

Without question, a solid strategy that aligns with business initiatives while empowering employee choice is essential. But introducing a new strategy implies change. And change is hard. There’s a reason why Peter Drucker said culture eats strategy for breakfast.

Corporate social responsibility in particular implies a peculiar type of change. Companies were not created to “do good” but rather, to make money for their stakeholders. Thankfully, humans are creatures with souls and we have required our companies to evolve. CSR and community involvement strategies are good and they’re getting better every day. What needs attention now is corporate culture, and culture begins with the heart of the individual.

Together, the community, the company, and the employee make up the elements of a complete three-dimensional logic model. By focusing on a combination of strategy and culture, never sacrificing one for the other, community involvement programs will achieve impacts that will catapult the industry to a new and necessary level. Click here for ideas and resources on how to integrate culture change with your strategy.

Want to continue the conversation?

Join our webinar to learn why creating a sound strategy goes hand-in-hand with addressing your internal culture. Corporate Citizenship’s Megan DeYoung and our very own Chris Jarvis will show you how aligning your community and business strategies will reignite your community program, creating a mobilized workforce and maximum community impact.

Questions? Leave a comment below or email us at contact@realizedworth.com. Also be sure to connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Angela Parker Co-founder/Partner, Realized Worth
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The Results are In! Volunteering Makes Your Employees Better

A constant topic of conversation here at Realized Worth revolves around the impact strategic employee volunteering programs have on businesses; how the link to employee engagement is undeniable. We discuss the effect these programs have on communities, and the strength of their impact on those communities. But … when it comes down to the impact on the individual, there wasn’t much to talk about. There has been little evidence on how employee volunteering programs build the skills of the employees themselves. Until now.

businessman hand choosing people icon  as human resources concep

By Corey Diamond

The Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development – more commonly known as CIPD – is a UK-based professional body for HR and people development. With over 130,000 members internationally, CIPD acts as a resource and training body for the profession. Its landmark report, published earlier this month, makes a strong link between volunteering and skills development; and while there have been a number of research reports over the years on this topic, none have featured case studies and empirical evidence of more than 20 companies and charities. The guts of the research is a thoughtful top ten list of the most common skills employees gain from volunteering, including:

    1. Community Awareness
    2. Confidence
    3. Coaching and Mentoring
    4. Communication
    5. Networking and Relationship Building
    6. Team Building
    7. Enhancing Your Professional Knowledge
    8. Self Awareness and Reinforcing Skills
    9. Workload Management
    10. Creativity

The list is backed up by actual experience from companies such as National Grid, Nationwide, Marks and Spencer and others. Wendy Tomlinson of Linklaters articulates the link perfectly:

I think increasingly we recognize that learning is not just about attending formal training programs, or taking part in formal e-learning or different learning technologies, but also is what they are driving themselves, through their own personal motivations or development … Volunteering in supporting other people is all a very rich learning experience, and I think adds to the collective sense of people learning through doing.

National Grid looks at skills development as part of every volunteer opportunity it promotes to its employees. Kate Van Der Plank explains:

All of our jobs have a defined competency matrix which includes levels of skill from foundation to advanced; so for the particular role that you’re currently in, or if there is a role you are aspiring to, you can have a look through the Hub and see the different community programs you can do that could help you get to that skill level.

The report is more evidence of the growing trend of employee volunteering programs and HR functions. As your program evolves, the extent to which you can integrate it into core business functions will be key to its expansion and success. Engaging HR through a learning and development lens is an excellent way to make that happen. And look no further than this great research to help with your initial conversations internally. We’d love to hear how those conversations go. Drop us a line via contact@realizedworth.com, connect with us on Twitter, or leave a comment below and tell us how it went.


Corey Diamond
Partner, Business Operations