Skills-based volunteering: definitions, benefits & examples

When you think of corporate volunteering, what comes to mind?

Corporate volunteering has changed greatly over time, allowing volunteers more flexibly than ever before. Field volunteering, virtual volunteering and skills-based volunteering all provide great benefits to nonprofits and the communities they serve. 

Your program design will determine the different ways your people can participate. It’s also common for company leadership to align volunteering opportunities with core business values and take advantage of their workforce’s specialized skills. 

How can employees volunteer?

As mentioned, there are multiple ways in which employees can volunteer and give back to the causes they care about. Whether that’s by volunteering time or skills, there’s always a way to support nonprofits.

It’s up to organizations to undertake employee volunteer management and decide which form of volunteering to offer to employees.

Volunteers can choose to participate in person — this is field volunteering. This involves physical projects and programs that benefit the community, and it can be completed as an individual or as a team. 

Employees can also volunteer virtually, making it easier to connect with nonprofits from around the world. Here are a few examples:

  • sitting on a committee or board
  • conducting surveys
  • managing volunteer projects or other admin work

What is skills-based volunteering?

Skills-based volunteering consists of employees using their professional experience and expertise on a pro bono basis to help nonprofit organizations. It’s a commitment made by many companies looking to leverage their skill sets to create social impact.

Skills-based volunteering opportunities use professional skills to offer pro bono support in many ways, such as:

  • Mentoring or coaching youth 
  • Translating documents or a website into another language
  • Preparing communications like external newsletters or designing a brochure
  • Finding new fundraising sources or preparing grant proposals
  • Reviewing legal contracts
  • Conducting an IT audit of technology used

As you can see, there are many ways in which employees can use their core skills to help nonprofits better serve their communities and the people who rely on them. 

Skill-based volunteering characteristics

Overall, skill-based volunteering has three main characteristics:

1. It’s remote

Since you don’t need to be physically present, and you’re no longer limited by geography, this increases the number of volunteering projects available! You can choose the nonprofit organization that focuses on the cause you care about most. 

This is also ideal for anyone with unconventional working hours — such as shift workers or those who live in remote areas — and anyone who prefers to volunteer from home. Given recent years, companies are constantly looking for creative ways to boost employee morale from home, and skills-based volunteering is a fantastic way to do exactly that.

2. It leverages skills and expertise

As its name suggests, this type of volunteering enables employees to use their skills to give back. Whether a professional skill or a hobby, it can be a valuable asset to nonprofits. A skills-based volunteering program can help nonprofits focus on making an impact with limited resources while your people step in to help with skills-based tasks. 

For example, a development director has a different set of skills than a software engineer. A small nonprofit organization is likely to have the former and not the latter to keep overhead costs down. So, a software engineer can provide the expertise that the nonprofit otherwise lacks.

3. It has a specific time frame

Skills-based projects can be divided into multiple groups: micro-volunteering, short-term, mid-term and long-term projects.

For example, it could vary from a 30-minute translation task to a three-week project to set up a dashboard of KPIs, or a three-month mentoring program for its beneficiaries.

A survey from the UK National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) found that lack of time was the number one impediment to continued volunteering. Remote, time-bound opportunities can increase the pool of volunteers available to help and retain existing volunteers. 

And, we have seen a significant move toward micro-volunteering projects, which are usually between 30 minutes and a few of hours of volunteering.

3 ways skills-based volunteering benefits your business

Skills-based, virtual volunteering has many benefits for everyone involved. Here are three ways skills-based volunteering is good for your business. 

It builds leadership skills

When employees volunteer, they are practising and developing their leadership skills. They will take on challenges and obstacles they might not face at work, learn how other organizations operate and gain skills personally and professionally.

It creates an interconnected and strong workplace culture

Another benefit of skills-based volunteering is that your employees from different sectors, teams and verticals can start working on a project together. This creates a stronger sense of community and connection, which leads to an even better workplace culture.

It builds your employer brand

We are living in the age of purpose and businesses today need to have more than just a good salary and short-lived perks. Employees want more meaning at work and to make a positive difference in the world

According to Glassdoor, 95% of job seekers surveyed said that a company’s reputation impacts their decision. Over 40% of people have stopped doing business with a company based on their stand on social issues — aside from working for them.

Trust in all information sources is at a record low and business has become the most trusted institution. Employee volunteer opportunities are key in maintaining trust in the values and mission of your company.

3 ways skills-based volunteering is good for your employees

Skills-based volunteering has many benefits for employees, too.

1. Improves mental health

Meaningful activity and a sense of purpose can lead to improved mental health. 

Research found that volunteering has favorable effects on mental health, with the after effect being described by researchers as a “warm glow.” This is especially true for those aged 16-25 and 55-74 due to the social connections and new skills that are often both discovered through volunteering.

It is particularly beneficial in nurturing a sense of gratitude, which also makes us feel more connected to others, makes us happier and gives us a greater sense of belonging

The benefits of gratefulness are endless, from having more social capital (those who were 10% more grateful than average had 17.5% more social capital) and improving physical health to enhancing empathy and improving sleep.

2. Connects you to others

Volunteering is a win-win — the more you give, the more you receive. Nowhere is this better seen than in creating new connections with the people whom you volunteer with. Dedicating your time to volunteer helps you: 

  • Meet new people and coworkers — Both with the people you volunteer with on a project and the people you connect with from nonprofits.
  • Expand your network This helps you both socially and professionally. You expand the group of people you know, which leads to plenty of new opportunities and even friendships.
  • Boost your social skills — Nothing boosts your social skills like committing to a shared activity with new people! You’re in it and you have to make it work — even if it's been a while due to remote work. 

3. Develops soft skills

Soft skills are a combination of people, social and communication skills with emotional intelligence. 

Soft skills development is important because they have a massive impact on one’s personal and professional life. Some of the benefits of developing soft skills include: 

  • The ability to self-motivate
  • Becoming better at conflict resolution
  • Communicating in a clear and crisp way
  • Being focused on problem-solving
  • Flexibility
  • Learning how to work under pressure and time constraints

76% of volunteers said they developed core work skills during their time as volunteers. To thrive in the workplace, developing soft skills becomes essential for employees.

Skills-based volunteering FAQ

What is skills-based volunteering?

Skills-based volunteering can be defined as when a volunteer uses their knowledge and abilities to benefit a worthy cause pro bono, often completed virtually during specific periods of time.

Why is skills-based volunteering important?

Because it has many benefits for employees, businesses and nonprofits. Also, it can help develop empathetic leadership, a better workplace culture and a stronger brand.