Think of a skills-based volunteer like a new hire – you need to find the right person for the job. Consider the following factors when vetting prospective volunteers.
Relevant Skills and Expertise
You’re choosing to tackle a project with external resources because it requires skills and expertise that you do not have in-house. It is important to ensure the volunteer you select brings complementary skills to the project and to your organization. Prior to starting discussions with potential volunteers, map out the hard skills, soft skills, and specific experience (with certain sectors, systems, or processes) your project demands. Be explicit about the level of expertise your volunteer will need in each of these areas to be successful (novice, intermediate, expert) and remember: it’s okay to ask for a resume or for more information about their credentials!
Make sure your volunteers understand the level of investment you are expecting of them. Discuss their availability frankly and ensure they are able to contribute the number of hours that the project necessitates within your prescribed timeframe. We recommend getting this commitment in writing.
Trust and Openness
Skills-based volunteers are typically involved with “behind the curtain” projects, meaning they’ll be exposed to your organization’s internal strategy and operations – warts and all! Make sure you are working with a person with whom you can establish a trusting, open relationship that creates the space for you to share openly and for the volunteer to be candid with you about areas for improvement.
Cross-Cultural Competency & Translation Skills
Your volunteer may be a dynamite engineer, but if she’s unable to translate what she’s building to the staff members who will ultimately own the project, it’s liable to fall apart once she leaves. Make sure your volunteer is able to understand the vision and needs your staff is communicating and, in turn, is able to articulate subject matter expertise in a way that resonates with your team. Look for someone who can leave industry jargon behind and demonstrates a high degree of cross-cultural competence – particularly if they have never worked in the social sector before.
A Learning Mindset
Skilled volunteers may be bringing much-needed expertise to your organization, but they’ll also learn a tremendous amount from your staff. Look for someone who listens first, rather than coming into the conversation with a prescribed solution. Your volunteer should be excited about the opportunities for bidirectional skill-sharing that pro bono affords.
The best volunteers will share a passion for your mission and services. This passion will fuel them to do their best work and to remain committed if your project hits snags, which all projects do! Look for someone who not only wants to volunteer, but wants to volunteer for you.