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Building Capacity for STEM Focused Nonprofits

By Common Impact | August 30, 2018

Around the world, employers are seeking highly-skilled workers to take on existing and emerging roles in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, also known as STEM. Workforce development and education, particularly as related to STEM, are two of the largest focus areas for corporate and foundation giving as well as two of the largest mission focuses for nonprofits, according to the CECP’s 2017 Giving in Numbers report. Yet, even given this great investment, gaps in STEM education still exist, leaving both employers and students without the critical thinking and analytical problem-solving skills sorely needed in our ever-changing global economy.  Skills-based volunteerism can bridge this divide by developing a multi-sector solution to building effective STEM programs that both prepare the workforce of the future and create employment opportunities for students and emerging leaders.

Skills-based volunteerism holds great promise in helping the social sector build capacity in order to deliver STEM education programs. Research tells us that the frequently underfunded social sector is only able to allocate 2% of annual budgets to infrastructure programs, compared to an average investment of 35% in the corporate sector. Without the ability to invest in building capacity, the nonprofit sector puts its mission of delivering STEM programming at risk. Skills-based volunteering can help bridge this funding gap by providing critical consulting and functional expertise for resource-constrained nonprofits. By leveraging professional skills such as marketing, human resources or technology in addition to engaged volunteer time, a nonprofit can exponentially increase their potential community impact. In fact, research indicates that the value of a skilled volunteer hour at an estimated $150 is over 6 times the value of a traditional, unskilled volunteer hour, valued at approximately $25 as calculated by The Independent Sector.

In our experience at Common Impact, we’ve seen this multiplier effect first-hand in volunteer engagements like the partnership we developed between State Street and Science Club for Girls. Science Club for Girls is a Massachusetts-based nonprofit that fosters excitement, confidence and literacy in STEM for girls from underrepresented communities. The organization delivers on its mission to increase access to STEM education for girls by providing free, experiential programs and maximizing meaningful interactions with women mentors in science, technology, engineering and math. The Science Club for Girls approached Common Impact with a technology challenge that the State Street volunteer team helped address. With a target population of girls from backgrounds historically underrepresented in STEM education, Science Club for Girls has been using redundant spreadsheets to track program data, which was proving inefficient and time-consuming for staff to maintain. The organization recognized that in order to support future growth they needed to shift their decentralized and error-prone data tracking model to a robust, unified database. Although this technology need was apparent, the nonprofit team struggled to find the technical skills and capacity to tackle this project on their own.

In fiscal year 2016, 78% of our participants are from our target population…compared to 72% in the previous year. In terms of girls, we are engaging 300 more girls from our target population this year!”

The State Street volunteer team worked with Science Club for Girls to spec, select, customize and, ultimately, implement a Salesforce database to more effectively capture and report program metrics. As a result of this skilled volunteer project, Science Club for Girls now names being “data-driven” as a key value for their staff interactions and nonprofit operations. The new database has enabled the organization to not only be more precise and informed for both internal and external communications and decision-making, but they have also been able to expand services to their target population. Thanks in large part to better data and reporting, Science Club for Girls has expanded their programming to engage hundreds of more girls from their target population since implementing the new technology.