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Guide to initiating a Skills-Based Volunteering Program

Cynthia Lo image

Cynthia Lo @csmlo

Program Manager, Skills-Based Volunteering, GitHub Social Impact

October 26, 2021 // EmployeesDevelopersSkills-Based Volunteering

Published on: October 26, 2021

In the Spring of 2021, GitHub’s Social Impact team launched the Skills-Based Volunteering (SBV) Program to engage GitHub staff and leverage their expertise to help social sector organizations solve complex business and technical issues. Now, armed with learnings, we’re excited to share best practices for other companies looking to deepen their social impact and implement an SBV program.

Exploring Skills-Based Volunteering programs

SBV programs can vary in breadth and depth, and companies can approach this work in a variety of ways — virtual or in person, project-based or event-based, or even as external secondment opportunities where employees are temporarily staffed with a social sector organization.

Project-based SBV programs can consist of consulting engagements, workshops, technical implementations, research, or mentorship opportunities. Whichever combination you choose, be sure that the project is well scoped out and that each volunteer has a clear understanding of their role and responsibilities before the engagement begins.

Event-based programs are one-time occasions, such as hackathons, for a large group of volunteers or time-boxed events, like conferences. The benefit of these types of events is that they can connect a larger audience of volunteers and social sector organizations simultaneously.

Finally, an external secondment opportunity is a long-term engagement program where a volunteer works full time in a project with a social sector organization. This can create a deeper relationship to the project, as corporate volunteers will dedicate more one-on-one time with the social sector through civic leave.

Companies can implement a mix of programming depending on their resources and social impact goals. To determine what might work best for each organization, consider these five core steps to setting up an SBV program below.

Core steps to setting up an SBV program

1) Evaluate whether you’re ready to undertake this challenge

  • Assess how the SBV program fits into your company’s strategic plan, define what needs you’re looking to serve, and the goals of the program.
  • Determine the main interests and skills of your company’s employees and use this to identify potential social sector partner organizations and projects that might be a fit.
  • Understand buy-in and commitment from staff and leadership to promote, participate, and accomplish the projects.
  • Explore how project scopes will be determined, estimate time required, timeframe, deliverables, and evaluation processes.

2) Organize and plan the SBV program

  • Develop processes and documentation for volunteer, project, and social sector partner organization management. This will help to tackle situations when there is a change in the project or team.
  • Create clear roles and responsibilities for all the participating parties.
  • Establish volunteer screening and interview tools that can be modified based on each volunteer ask. This is important for matching the skill set of the volunteers to the engagement in a transparent manner.
  • Develop a communications and outreach plan to attract specifically skilled volunteers within your company.
  • Develop a partnership agreement between the partner organization and the SBV program outlining the scope of work, commitment to partnership, and outcome expectations. It may be required to engage your corporation’s legal council to generate a contract.

3) Engage with social sector partner organizations and volunteers

  • Develop and implement a process to onboard volunteers, including training sessions and any prerequisite approvals.
  • Develop and implement a process to onboard social sector organizations, including methods of communications.
  • Provide an avenue for volunteers and partner organizations to provide feedback through regular check-ins. Ensure clear communication and reporting channels are set up for direct supervision and accountability.

4) Implement program and regularly maintain processes

  • Maintain a tracking system to record the contributions of volunteers. This allows volunteers to showcase their work for learning and development initiatives and to audit projects if needed.
  • Design an impact evaluation framework for project outcomes, deliverables, and hours of the volunteers engagement. Consider leveraging a monitoring and evaluation framework to approach measuring impact.
  • Implement an exit interview and retrospective for the volunteers to understand the challenges and successes.

5) Provide recognition for stakeholders

  • Develop a plan to provide recognition for volunteers and social sector partner organizations. Recognition can be in the form of blog posts, company wide meetings, volunteer awards, and reference letters.
  • Continuously engage with past volunteers to build a community to network, share lessons learned, and bring awareness to social sector issues.

Each element is important to consider when developing an SBV program, however the most essential part is ensuring the program creates social impact. We invite you to fork GitHub’s Skills-Based Volunteering Repo and start an SBV program with your team!

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