Building Tech Capacity with Pro Bono Volunteers | npENGAGE

Building Tech Capacity with Pro Bono Volunteers

By on Jul 29, 2019

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building nonprofit tech capacity

At Common Impact, we work to connect expert business volunteers to nonprofits that need help building organizational capacity in areas like marketing, finance, or HR. One of the most common requests for volunteer services from our nonprofit partners is technology support. Technical volunteer requests can range from help in implementing a new database to support for a website redesign.

In our nearly 20 years of experience managing pro bono projects, we’ve learned that tech experts can be a valuable volunteer resource for your organization. Yet, not all nonprofits are comfortable engaging volunteers for IT projects. But with smart management and some helpful tools, your organization can and should confidently engage IT volunteers to boost your technology infrastructure and deliver on your social mission.

Why Engage Tech Volunteers?

Establishing and maintaining effective IT systems are critical needs for nonprofits of all sizes. However, this work can also be expensive and complex for the average nonprofit to manage – particularly without a dedicated technology manager or sufficient IT resources and partners. Larger nonprofits may have one or several employees or vendors dedicated to managing IT systems. But even well-funded organizations find that their vision often outpaces their resources.

Skilled technology volunteers represent an incredible potential resource for your nonprofit, but one that requires careful planning and management to avoid any system failures. In our work managing skills-based volunteer programs that address technology needs for nonprofits, we’ve learned a few best practices that we think can help any organization manage a successful IT volunteer project.

Is your organization ready for pro bono support? Read Danielle’s article “6 Tips to Know Your Nonprofit Is Ready for Skilled Volunteers”


Quick Tips for Successful IT Volunteer Management

  • Be Strategic – Before you engage a volunteer, take real time to prioritize and define your IT needs, understand your capacity to absorb a skilled volunteer, and identify important timing considerations for your technology projects. Take this a step further by drafting a volunteer job description that outlines your needs and goals. For help with this step in the volunteer process, check out Scope section of Capacity Commons.
  • Find the Right Fit – With your job description in hand, take the time to interview potential volunteers to understand their skills and working style. Remember this person will likely be working closely with you, your staff, and your systems for the next few months. It is critical you ensure a good cultural and skill fit, as well as establish trust in the volunteer’s experience and recommendations.
  • Structure the Engagement – Once you’ve found the right volunteer, structure the engagement as a professional consulting experience. Write a volunteer agreement, schedule regular check-ins, and establish a protocol the volunteer should follow to regularly document anything a future volunteer, staff member, or consultant would need to know. The Capacity Commons Implement section includes some helpful tools for documenting a project and crafting a volunteer agreement.
  • Manage & Support Your Volunteer – Fully onboard your volunteer and stay involved throughout the engagement. Repeatedly check on the status of the project against the plan and expectations you’ve previously discussed, and also make sure you offer yourself up as a resource and support. As a best practice, treat this project as one of your own strategic objectives to ensure you carve out time to thoroughly review documentation and address any questions the volunteer brings forward.
  • Measure, Communicate & Celebrate Your Project Impact – Set time aside to thank your volunteer and celebrate their accomplishments. Make sure you have all of the information you need to maintain the solution provided and solve future challenges. Take advantage of some of our free pro bono calculator resources to evaluate the full impact of this skilled volunteer and communicate the valuable volunteer investment to your staff and board. Want some resource to get started on this important step? Check out the Evaluate section of Capacity Commons.

We hope the above tips and tools will help you get started on your own IT volunteer project. We are also in the process of sourcing tech projects for Tech Impact Week, a project we are hosting this fall with our partner Fidelity Investments. If your nonprofit is in need of tech skills and located in one of our supported locations, please apply for pro bono support. Details on locations and dates are available at https://commonimpact.org/resources/post/upcoming-events.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Danielle Holly is CEO of Common Impact, an organization that designs programs that direct companies most strategic philanthropic asset – their people – to the seemingly intractable social challenges they’re best positioned to address. Danielle has supported hundreds of nonprofit organizations on positioning and branding strategies to more effectively scale their models of social impact.  In addition, Danielle has helped numerous corporations navigate the new era in corporate social responsibility and skills-based volunteering, including global powerhouses JPMorgan Chase, Charles Schwab, Marriott International, and Fidelity Investments. She is a contributing writer for Nonprofit Quarterly on strategic corporate engagement.  She is a member of the NationSwell Council, and has served on the Board of Directors for the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network and Net Impact NYC. You can reach her via email at dholly@commonimpact.org or follow her on Twitter @dholly8.

Comments (9)

  • Sage says:

    I love the idea of structuring this like a professional consulting experience. Thank you!

  • Amy Dana says:

    I’d love to read a case study from an org who did this.

  • Karen Stuhlfeier says:

    At a previous employer we used volunteers successfully this way. They were retired IT professionals who wanted to volunteer in a meaningful way.

  • Rachel Bailey says:

    Partnering with pro bono volunteers from a local consulting firm has been essential for the success of several software implementations at our organization. It is ALWAYS worth your time to see what kind of resources are out there!

  • magdasarnas@gmail.com says:

    Good volunteer programs also are structured this way. It is so important to do this to tie into grants to show how fiscally responsible and show how more money can be leveraged toward programs.

  • Alicia Barevich says:

    Skilled volunteers are super important!

  • Sylvia says:

    This is a great idea and, as an IT professional, something that I am interested in offering various organizations I support.

  • Claudia says:

    We’re working to structure our volunteer opportunities like this

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