Nov 14th, 2022
The Power of Skills-Based Volunteering
Volunteers are the solution to capacity support.
During an economic downturn, nonprofit organizations experience higher demand for their critical services, while seeing their donations decrease as supporters tighten their purse strings. Many of the already under-resourced, smaller nonprofits that are supporting local communities will struggle. A recession will widen an already existing capacity gap for the sector, and smaller nonprofits will be asked to do more with less. Skills-based volunteering has become more important than ever before as a solution to providing nonprofits with capacity support.
For the past decade, Catchafire has harnessed the power of people to address this critical capacity gap and support small nonprofits. Catchafire connects resource-constrained nonprofits to a global network of highly-skilled volunteer professionals with decades of experience in areas like marketing, graphic design, IT, finance, fundraising, and more. Nonprofits on Catchafire receive a suite of capacity building support to advance their programmatic and operational goals, including:
- Consultation calls and projects with experienced volunteer professionals
- Unlimited access to professional nonprofit advisors, 1:1 coaching, and support
- Nonprofit resource hub with monthly trainings and Executive Director leadership support groups
- Project templates and needs assessments built by our industry experts and ready for use - ensuring nonprofits can post a project within five minutes
We recently hosted a panel discussion with three Catchafire volunteers who have collectively contributed over $600,000 in pro bono value and supported communities with their professional expertise. Our volunteer panelists shared their experience with skills-based volunteering and working with hundreds of nonprofits virtually. They also offered a glimpse into how they’ve used Catchafire to grow their personal and professional impact.
Addressing the Capacity Gap: The Power of Skills-Based Volunteering
We were also joined by Payal Sawhney, Founder, President and Executive Director for Saahas for Cause, a nonprofit focused on improving the quality of life for the South Asian immigrant community in Southern California. Since posting their first project in May 2021, Saahas for Cause has saved over $160,000 by working with skilled volunteers on Catchafire.
If you missed the discussion, you can watch the event here:
The Value of Skills-Based Volunteers
Skills-based volunteering on Catchafire is easy. Volunteers can tailor their perfect volunteer experience by choosing from 24 cause areas and 35 skill sets. Projects range from 1-50 hours, providing flexibility on how volunteers can use their talents and learn new skills. Our project templates outline specific skill requirements, deliverables, and impact statements from the nonprofit so that volunteers know what they're signing up for and how their work will benefit others.
Skills-based volunteering has a wide range of benefits, for both the nonprofit and the volunteer. Volunteers are able to build their resume, network, and confidence, while nonprofits receive the support they need to sustain their programming and operations. Volunteers and nonprofits build relationships, creating enduring connections that expand and accelerate their community impact.
Our event featured three exceptional volunteers on the Catchafire platform:
Darlene is the Founder and CEO of Una’s Cupcakes. Having spent 20+ years in the market research industry in both the US and internationally, she’s recruited, trained, and led teams of up to 240 full-time, 100 part-time staff across multiple offices. She has also served as Executive Director of the environmental nonprofit Earth Law Center, and served on their board for several years afterward. As the Executive Director of Earth Law Center, she also served as a Volunteer Manager, posting (and completing) over 145 projects on Catchafire. As a Catchafire volunteer, Darlene has completed 49 projects on the site, providing organizations with things like Leadership Coaching, Change Management, and Board Operations, saving nonprofits over $135,000 in pro bono impact.
Evette is a Learning Delivery Manager at American Express who oversees USA training delivery for Premium Card Servicing. Evette is a former managing partner for Kawambe Omowale African Drum and Dance Theatre; starting as a dancer over 20 years ago. She works to bring African history, culture, and traditions to life for audiences throughout North America and abroad. As a Catchafire volunteer through our program with American Express, she shared expertise in Organizational Development, Leadership Coaching, and Performance Management with the nonprofit Innerconnected, and eventually became their Board President. Our partnership with American Express brings skills-based, virtual volunteer opportunities to their 84,000 employees worldwide. American Express’ nonprofit partners gain access to high-quality, pro bono talent through the Catchafire platform. Learn more about some of our CSR partnerships and collective community impact.
Tom was the CDC’s first Chief Evaluation Officer from 2011 until his (semi) retirement in 2020. For almost two decades he helped CDC programs and partners build their capacity to do better evaluation, performance measurement, and strategic planning. In retirement, Tom continues his evaluation and planning work as a guest researcher at CDC, as well as a Fellow at the CDC Foundation. Through Catchafire, Tom has volunteered with over 60 organizations as a pro-bono consultant specializing in Strategic Planning and Organizational goal setting, saving organizations over $470,000 in consulting fees.
During the panel, Darlene, Evette, and Tom discussed their Catchafire experiences and moments that have resonated with them through skills-based volunteering.
Darlene's unique experience as both a volunteer and a Volunteer Manager allowed her to experience Catchafire on different ends, both contributing to and experiencing the impact of skills-based volunteers. As a volunteer, Darlene's focus is on coaching projects - she wants to build relationships with the organization and have a deeper contribution in problem solving. As an Executive Director, she called Catchafire "not only critical, but transformative." She was always impressed by the high quality of volunteers, and the time and cost-efficiency it provided for her organization. Virtual volunteerism provided an infrastructure to do more.
She shared, "We often got mistaken for being bigger than we were because we had Catchafire volunteers! We had hundreds of people, but everyone minus three of us were volunteers. That's the strength of Catchafire - the difference between having a professional graphic artist or copywriter is universes and galaxies apart from having an Executive Director doing the best they can on a project at midnight."
Her organization also developed long-term relationships with many volunteers based on their shared values and commitments. Volunteers were able to provide project support and build their resume, getting jobs due to their extensive professional experience on Catchafire.
As part of our CSR program with American Express, employees are given access to Catchafire to volunteer and support nonprofits. For Evette, her volunteer experience led to her joining a nonprofit organization as their Board President. Evette started volunteering on leadership coaching projects with Innerconnected, a nonprofit organization that increases youth access to vital wellness tools. As she provided critical support on navigating their organizational challenges and strategies, she was invited to join their Board.
Evette said, "I have always felt like the reason I’m on this earth is to support others. Joining American Express, and seeing they encouraged and paid for us to volunteer like this, I thought it was incredible...There’s so much that we gain from this. You get pigeonholed in your job, and with Catchafire you get an opportunity to EXPAND. Who doesn’t like helping people?"
Evette reflected on the value of professionals and executives volunteering their expertise to boost nonprofit capacity:
"Executive Directors have tunnel vision because they have so much they have to do. We as volunteers bring so much knowledge and we don’t even realize. I have experience at Schwab, Amex, I can bring all that to that Executive Director who maybe has only been in this role, and open their eyes and provide a new perspective. As consultants, we can be truth tellers. To have someone, who has a full time job somewhere else, ask you, “have you considered this?” Here are some alternatives. We can impart that and play the role of that trusted advisor."
With over 65 projects and $470,000 in pro bono impact, Tom has seen firsthand how volunteerism can support nonprofit priorities, program engagement, and boost operations. Projects don't have to be one-off moments of engagement either; Tom has a list of about a dozen organizations that he regularly checks in with. He uses these check ins to follow up on his projects, see how the organization is doing, and answer their questions and reflections.
Based on his expertise, he wanted to assist organizations with strategic planning and high-level organizational questions.
He said, "I had a senior position at the CDC for a long time. The thing I enjoyed the most was the direct training and guidance of programming. The consulting I did with programs and partners, especially on strategic planning, because that was where the “Ah Ha’s” were...When I moved into “semi-retirement”, I wanted to keep my brain involved, I always thought I would do some volunteer work. The organizations on Catchafire were at a stage where what I was giving them was actually useful."
As a volunteer, seeing the instant, tangible impact you can have by sharing your skills is powerful:
"What I think I have learned, is that everyone benefits from this. The way I pitch myself to organizations: I start with a logic model and a program road map. That always ends up leading to observations that they haven’t had before. People in the sector don’t have the OPPORTUNITY to think about their organization in this hyper way. People don’t have the time or the push to think about “who am I and what am I trying to accomplish?”. We're really getting to the core of “if i’m going to keep my doors open, I need to do this.” That’s what I can provide them through these projects."
Darlene, Evette, and Tom are phenomenal examples of the thousands of skilled volunteer professionals on the Catchafire platform. Regardless of a volunteer's role, location, or level of experience, they can provide virtual project support for a nonprofit and have a huge impact. Volunteer engagement with nonprofits has a significant impact on advancing their missions and helping them serve their communities. Just ask Saahas for Cause.
Skills-Based Volunteering Makes a Difference
Skills-based volunteering has had a critical impact on Saahas for Cause; since May 2021, the organization has posted over 40 projects and saved over $160,000 in consulting expenses.
For new, grassroots organizations, getting started is a huge endeavor. When Payal was working on launching Saahas for Cause, she started with writing a lot of grants and receiving a number of rejections. Payal said, "I was new, we were doing a lot of work, we were new and very small, we didn’t have that bigger footprint that people could know. We had a footprint in our community, but we didn’t have enough time to make noise about what we were doing."
One of these rejections was from the Archstone Foundation, a Catchafire partner and grantmaker in California. While the Archstone Foundation rejected Saahas for Cause's grant application, they reached out to let them know that they were being granted access to the Catchafire platform. Through this approach, Archstone Foundation was able to extend the reach of their grant dollars in an innovative way, giving Saahas for Cause the capacity support it needed to get off the ground. After attending an orientation for Catchafire grantees and learning more, Payal decided that she and her team would use all of Catchafire's resources, and were excited to make the most of it to help advance their mission.
Payal held a team meeting to inform her team about Catchafire, ensuring that all staff members had accounts and encouraging them to post projects to help them meet their organizational goals. And, as Payal said, "the rest is history."
After almost a year and a half on the platform, the organization has received the critical capacity support it needed to operationalize key needs, such as a website, database, finance support, HR support, graphic design, partnership proposals, graphic design for marketing collateral, and more.
Upon reflection, Payal said, "I realize now that I would rather take Catchafire over a grant. The projects that I have gotten done have resulted in much more value in comparison to that grant. The Archstone Foundation denying me that grant was a blessing in disguise. I was able to get so many things done, drafting the policies, making the videos, revamping my website, I would not be thinking about any of that with just the grant. Catchafire helped me find things I didn’t know I needed."
Three projects that were particularly impactful for Saahas for Cause were their pitch deck, employee handbook, and curriculum for financial empowerment to prevent domestic violence. Volunteers from Catchafire were critical to developing and operationalizing these materials. What was particularly striking was the high-quality of the volunteers Payal and her team were working with. She noted one individual who helped her with a pitch deck, providing timely collateral and multiple rounds of revision. Payal was impressed to read about his professional background, degrees from Ivy League schools, and his extensive knowledge base. She still keeps in touch with him and asks him for guidance, developing a long-term relationship and advocate for her organization.
As Saahas for Cause approached the end of their first year with Catchafire, Payal spoke to the Archstone Foundation about her positive experience with Catchafire's skills-based volunteers and the comprehensive support her team received from the platform. She applied for a grant, hoping to receive further capacity support. Not only did Saahas for Cause receive a grant from the Archstone Foundation, but they also received another year of access to Catchafire! Payal said, "I recommend this to any foundations that are listening. It's a good tool to scale up your work and to scale up your reach. I know nonprofits, they struggle, we have a big agenda that we start with. We work so much to carry that forward. Catchafire was what we really needed."
"I would advise anyone wanting to volunteer to volunteer with Saahas for Cause. Being able to help this organization on their journey to bring change to this world is impeccable, and knowing that I could effectively help in any way or kind anywhere in the world. Volunteer at Saahas for Cause TODAY! Your time will not be wasted and the opportunity will help you towards your personal growth and help you to make an impact by working with this organization."
-Annicia S., Volunteer
By leveraging the power of skills-based volunteering, Saahas for Cause was able to build its operations and programming - and will only continue to grow!
Get Involved With Catchafire
There are many ways to get involved with Catchafire:
If you’re a grantmaker and would like to learn more about equipping nonprofits in your community with responsive, high-quality operational support, let’s connect. Email us here.
Interested in CSR? Learn more about how we work with companies and request a demo.
Learn more about our Strong Communities initiative, a 10-city campaign that provides essential operational support to BIPOC nonprofits that are historically disconnected from resources. Join us in supporting 5,000 nonprofits.
Skills-based volunteering and virtual volunteerism is an exciting way to use your skills and knowledge to help others. Sign up today to volunteer and directly support nonprofits and communities. Lend your expertise and boost capacity of nonprofit staff through one hour consultation calls and longer-term projects. Projects range from 1-50 hours across several departments such as design, marketing, operations, finance, IT, and more.
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