Deloitte LLP, an international consulting firm, has released the results of its Deloitte Volunteer IMPACT Survey about pro bono and skilled-volunteer support for nonprofits.
The survey found that almost 40% of nonprofit executives say they plan to spend anywhere from $50,000 to more than $250,00 on outside contractors and consultants this year. At the same time, 24% of nonprofit respondents say they have no plans to use skilled volunteers or pro bono services from corporations this year.
Deloitte encourages nonprofits to think of pro bono and skilled-volunteer help from corporations as a form of currency, helping to fill the financial gap in the face of lower corporate giving and the increased demand for nonprofit services.
Evan Hochberg, national community involvement leader at Deloitte, said, "At a time when cash is tighter for everyone, it’s critical for both companies and nonprofits to think creatively about how to capitalize on the growing market for pro bono services."
Why Aren't Nonprofits Using Skilled Volunteers?
The survey addresses the question of why the marriage of skilled corporate volunteers and nonprofit needs for such skills is yet to be fully consummated. According to the survey, 17% of corporations have no employee volunteer programs, and 50% do not offer skilled-volunteer support for nonprofits, even though they say they are in favor of it. Plus, 24% of nonprofits have no one in charge of volunteer management, or have people with little experience in charge.
Most nonprofits surveyed admitted that they did not really know how to go about securing these highly-skilled volunteers or pro bono work from corporations. They do not know what companies to approach nor whom to contact within companies.
Although there are thousands of skilled volunteers working happily today with nonprofits, that are delighted to receive their help, the issue of nonprofits using highly-skilled volunteers or accepting pro bono work is a complicated one. A much more sophisticated process is needed to use highly specialized volunteers, and the process, as the study admits, has to be managed well from both ends.
Most volunteer positions are generalized and deployed to meet a nonprofit's needs that require less specialized skills. The actual professional skills of a volunteer may not be relevant. So we might find a doctor or a lawyer helping in a food pantry, irregardless of their professional skills.
Highly-skilled volunteers are deployed more strategically on complicated projects that do utilize the volunteer's particular expertise, for instance in accounting, long range planning, legal affairs, or marketing.
The relationship between the nonprofit and these skilled workers can be an uneasy one. Who is the client? Who is in charge? A sense of inequality could be created when corporate volunteers interact with nonprofit staff.
It is not uncommon for nonprofit staff to resent the presence of these experts, or to feel that their own competence has been brought into question. The corporate experts may feel frustrated with the culture of the nonprofit office. They may demand that they work only with the top people or even members of the board, who may be their corporate peers. If dissatisfied with these volunteers, can the nonprofit fire them?
Corporate volunteers need to be careful not to see themselves as knights riding to the rescue of a helpless and befuddled nonprofit, but recognize that they will be working with people who are highly skilled in the mission-critical activities of their organizations. A smart nonprofit outsources, at least to some extent, those tasks that are not mission critical. They can do that by hiring experts in those areas, or by seeking pro bono services and skills-based volunteers. As any good volunteer knows, she gets as much as she gives in her work with a nonprofit. Corporate and highly skilled volunteers should be no exception.
One way for nonprofits to find skilled volunteers is through organizations set up to do the matching. One of those is the Taproot Foundation which provides "grants" to nonprofits and then matches expert help from corporations to the nonprofit's need.
Unfortunately, a grant making process does nothing to alleviate the uneasy relationship between the corporate giver and the nonprofit receiver. It is a relationship that we are all accustomed to because, traditionally, that is how nonprofits approach corporations for philanthropy. Nonprofits apply for grants directly from corporate foundations. But there are newer philanthropic models that could be used.
Toward a More Equitable Relationship
One way around the relationship issue is to include skills-based volunteering and pro bono support in a broader Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) effort. It's clear that Deloitte is doing that with its nuanced approach to both offering skills-based volunteerism and promoting it to other corporations.
CSR creates a more level playing field for both nonprofit and corporation, since both are offering and receiving advantages. The nonprofit is offering to help the corporation to be a good corporate citizen, while the nonprofit receives financial support through a variety of methods, that can include pro bono services and skilled volunteers.
Chris Jarvis of Realizing Your Worth, and an expert on employee volunteer programs, said:
"CSR is a key strategy that offers a competitive advantage to businesses. Now, instead of asking for handouts, non-profits can offer partnerships....Nonprofit organizations can play a vital role in assisting companies to achieve better visibility, team building, staff training, and employee engagement. Corporate Social Responsibility will have a profound affect on both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors. Nonprofits need to structure themselves to be essential to the success of businesses in their communities...."
Right now, as the Deloitte survey reveals, neither corporations nor nonprofits have this relationship completely worked out. Both need to take steps towards an equitable partnership so that the needs of each can be satisfied, with maximum dignity for all.