A key differentiator for pro bono service and a concept core to The Knitting Factor is the idea of skill sharing or a two-way talent exchange in which both professional volunteers and their nonprofit partners are able to learn with and from each other through an expectation of shared value and knowledge.
For nonprofits, skills-based volunteerism can be used not only to build functional capacity, but also as a talent development tool, often enabling participants to enhance a specific set of leadership skills, “stretch” their talents, uncover new interests and grow into larger roles at the organization. Skills-based volunteerism can also help develop back-up experts for an organization that may not have the budget or need to support full-time staff in a particular function. And it can provide valuable external perspective on a nonprofit’s service delivery model or internal processes.
For nonprofits pursuing pro bono service, it is important to be proactive in establishing a skilled volunteer relationship. Before recruiting a business partner, nonprofits should define the project and outline the skills needed for a successful outcome. This step will ensure that an organization finds the right partner for this work rather than trying to fit within an existing funder’s priorities. When recruiting volunteers and internal team leads, the project should be staffed around identified core skills, while instilling a spirit of inquiry and willingness to learn. Nonprofits should also feel confident in their service model and business processes while being open to new solutions from their volunteer partners. Being honest and transparent from the start of the partnership will establish a culture of feedback and ensure that all parties feel comfortable pushing back if the project veers off-course.
Successful, sustainable partnerships that create real, long-term community change are built by recognizing the unique value that both nonprofits and corporate volunteers bring to the relationship and fully appreciating the benefits of different skill sets,
experiences and backgrounds.
Today we are sharing two examples of skill sharing in action and the positive organization and individual impact they delivered. We look forward to hearing your stories of skill sharing in action in the comments section.
Developing agile project management skills
Despite close offices in “The Triangle” region of North Carolina, Fidelity Investments and The Research Triangle Foundation of North Carolina (RTF) first met through a skills-based volunteer program on (of course) technology. The project focused on a database integration and provided the perfect opportunity for both the corporate and nonprofit teams to learn from each other and pick up new tech skills in the process. In addition to gaining a deeper understanding of database platforms, both organizations walked away with a new appreciation for agile project methodology, taking this emerging project management process back to their respective organizations for future tech implementations.
Michael Pittman, VP of Marketing and Communication at RTF shared his perspective on the impact this project had on his organization: “What made this such a great project is that both teams had the opportunity learn and share knowledge.”
Building a flexible and customer-focused project team culture
In another example from Fidelity, a volunteer team helped The Center for Transforming Lives develop a new website to effectively showcase the organization’s work. While the Fidelity team introduced The Center to the benefits of agile project management, a process that had previously refined through skills-based volunteerism, the Center introduced Fidelity volunteers to their nimble, start-up culture, enabling the project team to become even more adept at shifting priorities and responding effectively to ever-changing scopes and schedules. Both teams also improved their customer service and client relations skills as they became experts at crafting long-term, mutually beneficial relationships.
Carol Klocek, Chief Executive Officer at CTL, spoke to the mutual benefits of this project by sharing, “Something we both walked away with was the ability to hone in on customer service and client relations skills that we don’t use every day. The client experience is extremely valuable for us. Throughout the process, we learned how to more efficiently work with high-level volunteers and cultivate a long-term, mutually beneficial relationships.”
How has skill sharing has supported you personally or professionally? And how you have successfully instilled a culture of skill sharing with your partners and volunteers?