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Developing Nonprofit Leadership Through Skills-Based Volunteering

By Common Impact | October 26, 2022

Nonprofits often lack sufficient funding for critical functions that enable organizations to run effectively. One area severely lacking funding and investment in the nonprofit sector is talent and leadership development, especially at Black and Brown lead nonprofits. Many organizations invest in program staff to run the day-to-day programming but often don’t have the capacity to invest in cultivating management and leadership, which results in perpetual turnover. As a result, nonprofits often lose their next generation of leaders because they can’t offer competitive salaries or provide significant growth and development opportunities. 

At Common Impact, we’ve seen first-hand how leveraging skills-based volunteering to create intentional and thoughtful development opportunities for nonprofit staff can solve this challenge. In addition, skills-based volunteering programming can be a great way to invest in talent without having to seek funding for it. In this article, you will find an update to our original article on developing nonprofit leaders through skilled volunteerism. 

So, how does this all work in practice?  

When your organization is getting ready to kick off a skills-based project with your corporate volunteers, you may be unsure of who to choose as the project lead. You might be inclined to consider the individual on your team who manages traditional volunteer engagements; however, it is essential to keep in mind that skilled-based volunteering projects require a different set of skills than conventional volunteer management and are often unique to the project that you’re tackling so we’ve developed a list of critical indicators for your project lead candidates. 

Identifying the right nonprofit skills-based volunteering project manager:  

  • Significant exposure to and command over the project focus area (e.g., IT, marketing, HR) accompanied by an understanding of how the project feeds broader strategic goals. 
  • Capacity to respond quickly to volunteer questions or requests to ensure project momentum. (Tip: your Executive Director may not be the best choice for this reason!) 
  • The ability to quickly make or facilitate decisions needed to move the project forward. 
  • Comfortable providing feedback and pushing back if the volunteers are off course on their deliverables. 
  • They have the trust of your staff and know what’s best for the project and organization. (Tip: this usually rules out your summer intern or new hires.) 
  • A long-term interest in the deliverable itself. Usually, it is best to have the staff member who will ultimately roll out and “own” the product at hand in its creation. 
  • A commitment to relationship development and an ability to cultivate your volunteer(s) to be engaged with your organization over the long term. 

This person will manage the project and ensure it moves forward according to scope and timeline, conveys your organization’s vision to the volunteer(s), provides inroads to additional staff and resources, and make key project-related decisions. This role is an ideal professional development to hone project management skills, gain exposure to new sectors, and deepen functional area expertise.   

Serving as a project manager reminds nonprofit employees of the impact they can generate and strengthens loyalty and retention. But more than that, participants learn how to adapt and solve complex problems in a new environment and bring this adaptive global leadership mindset back to the organization. This kind of active learning increases your nonprofit capacity by developing leadership your organization will depend on in the future. 

Contact us to learn how we match our nonprofit partners to corporate skills-based volunteer programs that will meet your unique needs.