Checkbook philanthropy is fraught with peril, especially in the workplace. Donors often grow weary of writing a check to the annual employee giving campaign. Even the blessings of payroll deduction can undermine the emotional connection donors once felt for your mission. Even worse, employees may donate only out of a sense of obligation or peer pressure rather than from any genuine connection to your cause.  Collecting checks is a necessary routine, but focusing on the transaction alone may adversely affect the long-term success of an employee giving campaign. Thankfully there are alternative ways to involve employees in your nonprofit mission.

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 A more satisfactory partnership with your corporate partners involves the time and talent of employees, not just their cash. Richard Crespin, Senior Fellow at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation put it this way: “although volunteer hours are unrecognized and thus, limited and discouraged by our tax code, one of the most powerful ways to engage a leading company is to ask them to lend the time of their employees. A consulting firm or other ‘white collar’ firm, as in the financial or technology sector, have great knowledge workers…”1  Over the past few years, such skills-based volunteering has accelerated as demonstrated by a Billion+ Change.  A Billion + Change, a campaign aimed at American business, has motivated more than “500 companies to commit to providing more than $2 billion worth of skills-based volunteer services to help nonprofits address critical community priorities at home and around the world.”

Why does skill-based volunteering work? According to research by True Impact, tendering skills builds nonprofit capacity more than any other type of volunteerism and those contributing their talent feel great satisfaction as well. In a 2011 study of 28,000 volunteers, 87 percent reported feeling extremely satisfied and 94 percent believed that their volunteerism was a “core component or positive influence on job satisfaction.”

A company typically employs individuals with a wide-variety of skills to bring to the table. Imagine the satisfaction an individual feels when allowed to use their skills to benefit a cause. That’s not to say that an employer will readily “lend” an employee to a nonprofit. But with some planning and clear objectives, skills-based volunteerism, also known as pro-bono volunteering, is a viable option, creating impact in both directions.

Three Steps for Starting A Skills-Based Volunteer Program

1.  Identify Alignment. As with all corporate philanthropic programs, pro-bono engagement must evolve organically in a direction that matters to the employees.  Ryan Scott of Causecast reminds us that, “effective pro-bono initiatives feel authentic, springing naturally from an alignment between employee interests, community needs and company programs.”

2.  Be Ready! Time is precious and your nonprofit needs to maximize the skills of any volunteers. Use this “Readiness Roadmap” assessment tool created by a Billion Plus Change to determine how your organization can prepare before soliciting help.

3.  Create Your Project List. An employee volunteer can’t solve every challenge but with clear objectives and defined skills needed for each project, the possibility of finding the right fit improves. In this regard, the Taproot Foundation provides a very useful worksheet for “Understanding Your Pro Bono Project Needs”.

Start with alignment, prepare for readiness and plan your strategic goals to enable skills-based volunteering. Not only will your volunteers feel increased satisfaction using their own talents but they may also concurrently make a fiduciary commitment to your cause, enabling a praiseworthy “double whammy”.