Skills Based Volunteers: Are you ready?

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skilled volunteersWe had a great professional gathering on Wednesday, April 30. It was a good excuse to get out of the office and go for a walk or drive in the beautiful afternoon sunshine! There were 17 people there – the perfect amount to ensure a lively conversation with the opportunity for everyone who wants to speak. Lisa Yeager from Encompass and Carly Bartz-Overman from King County United Way (KCUW) tag teamed the facilitation.

When you post a volunteer opportunity on UWKC’s website and you get a notice saying that your posting is being reviewed, have you ever wondered who is reviewing it or what they know about how to recruit volunteers? Well, we met that reviewer on Wednesday (her name is Carly) and she knows a lot about volunteer recruitment! Carly’s latest project with UWKC is called the “Skills Based Volunteer (SBV) Initiative.”

UWKC defines Skills Based volunteering as “tap[ping] the specific work-related experience, professional skill sets, educational background, or other abilities [that] individuals and groups have developed through practical experience.” Think lawyers, translators, web developers, marketers, graphic designers, etc. In conjunction with this initiative, Carly is excited to help us expand our organizations’ impacts by “strategically incorporating these specialized skills and talents.” When you create a volunteer recruitment posting on KCUW’s website, Carly is the one who reviews your posting and gets it up on the website. As a part of the SBV Initiative, Carly now promotes SBV opportunities in various ways on the site by doing things like adding an SBV medallion to qualifying posts. For a list of steps that UWKC is taking in this initiative and a link to the SBV FAQ page, take a look at this UWKC-SBV Initiative-OneSheeter.

Lisa Yeager attended training for the SBV pilot and has since been very successful in strategically incorporating SBV into Encompass’ volunteer program. Just like all volunteers, skills based volunteers come at a cost; so Lisa got us thinking about some of the pros and cons of using SBVs. This is an important step in assessing where and when to use SBVs in your organization. Before incorporating SBVs into your organization, you should assess whether your organization and your projects are ready. According to Lisa (and UWKC), five characteristics of organizational readiness are:

  1. Strong executive leadership

Do your leaders have vision and a desire to leverage opportunities?

  1. Potential to create deep social impact

Will these volunteers make a difference? Will there be a connection between the volunteer’s work and the people served by the organization?

  1. Effective relationship building

Will the volunteers be viewed as “short term, pro bono staff?”

  1. Organizational stability

Is your organization financially and operationally stable?

  1. Strategic engagement of volunteers

Do you have the knowledge and capacity to engage these volunteers strategically?

And four characteristics of project readiness are:

  1. Pre-project groundwork

What are the goals and success measures for the project?

  1. Clear buy-in

Is there project consensus among stakeholders?

  1. Post-project support plan

How will the project be sustained after the volunteer leaves?

  1. Defined project leadership

Who is the one point person with the time and skills to supervise the volunteer?

We left the gathering with a lot to think about. Skills based volunteers can be a great resource to our organizations, but are we ready and able to incorporate them into our programs? I encourage you to think about this question for yourself and do your homework. Skills based volunteers might be just what you need to take your organization to the next level!

Resources:

SBV FAQ page for Agencies

Creating and Managing SBV page

Listing SBV opportunities in Volunteer Solutions

Skills-Based Volunteering | Volunteer Canada

Strategically Engaging Skills-Based and Pro Bono Volunteers

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Jennifer has coordinated and managed volunteers for more than a decade. She is currently the Volunteer Resource Manager for Susan G. Komen Puget Sound. Jennifer is constantly inspired by the passion and generosity of the people who give their time and energy to a cause that they believe in.