Power dynamics exist in every relationship and are particularly pronounced in collaborations that include an exchange from one party to another – of resources, services, or ideas. Such dynamics may color cross-sector engagements, driving partners on the receiving end of services to shapeshift in order to match the priorities of their funders or volunteer partners. While it is important to acknowledge these dynamics, they do not have to dictate the norms of your skills-based volunteering engagement.
Here are a few tips to help you advocate for your needs and create mutually beneficial partnerships.
Do not be afraid to say no
Before you embark on an engagement, make sure the end goal of the project is useful to you. If a volunteer proposes an idea for a project that does not align with your current needs, do not be afraid to turn it down. Provide your partners with an explanation for why the project is not the right fit or the right timing and proactively let them know how they can best support your organization.
Create a culture of trust and open communication
While your volunteer may be the subject matter expert, you are the expert on your organization. Be upfront about your operating environment, trust in the expertise of your volunteer, and approach the partnership with an open mind!
Direct the services to where you need them the most
Skills-based volunteering is designed to address core areas of social sector organizations that are traditionally under-resourced and under-funded. Be honest and direct about where volunteers can best plug in to support your organization.
Pro tip: Don’t forget to do your research to understand what unique talents, knowledge, and experiences your partner can offer! A resume may not tell the full story of what a volunteer can contribute.
Feedback, feedback, feedback
Set the precedent at the beginning of your project for an open exchange of feedback. If you intentionally create space and forums for feedback as part of the process, it will feel less personal and more reciprocal.
Pro tip: It can help to think of yourself as a client receiving a service. Feedback is not only welcome but also necessary to move the project forward!
Encourage your partners to be committed beyond pro bono
Consider your skills-based volunteering engagement a potential gateway to a longer term relationship. Actively brainstorm with your volunteers about how to grow and develop the partnership over time.