THE BLOG
05/14/2013 10:35 am ET Updated Jul 14, 2013

Business People Within Borders: Skills-Based Volunteering to Create Jobs and Rebuild the American Economy

More Americans volunteered their time to assist a nonprofit organization in 2011 than ever before. In total, 64.3 million Americans volunteered a total of 7.9 billion hours with a formal organization, with a value of over $170 billion.

This truly demonstrates Americans' generosity and commitment to the collective good. I applaud it. But, in some ways, we're not getting the most benefit we could from people's investment of time. That's a waste.

The U.S. Census Bureau tracks volunteerism by nine categories of organizations: Civic, political, professional, international; Educational or youth service; Environmental; Hospital or other health related; Public safety; religious; Social or community service; Sport, hobby, cultural or arts; and Other. Volunteer participation is greatest in religious and youth-oriented nonprofits. The Census doesn't even track volunteer efforts to address what most Americans in recent polls say is the biggest problem facing the country -- job creation and the economy.

The assumption is that when you volunteer, you are working to help a nonprofit organization. But America's number one challenge at the moment is to create jobs. Most jobs are created at small businesses. And most jobs are lost at small businesses when those businesses fail. While most small businesses are in business to make money, that doesn't mean that they can afford the help they need to survive and grow. So most small business owners just do the best they can. And, since none of us is expert in everything, business owners make mistakes, have no cushion and often fail -- taking jobs with them.

To bolster the U.S. economy and create jobs, we need more people to volunteer to help for-profit small businesses. Only 15 percent of business professionals, who volunteered their time in 2011, used their professional business skills in their primary volunteer work. But 82 percent of those volunteers volunteered again and again. The volunteer retention rate for business people who leverage their business skills in their volunteer work is significantly higher than for those who did not use their skills in their volunteer efforts. That means that more volunteers would volunteer their time -- and keep volunteering their time -- if they could leverage their business and management expertise for good. What better place to do that than in a small business, helping create jobs and rebuild the American economy?

Perhaps the most well-known example of professionals volunteering to leverage their specialized expertise for social good is the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Doctors Without Borders. It's time to launch a kind of Business People Within Borders here in the United States.

We don't need a new organization to make Business People Within Borders a reality. There are places and avenues for business people to volunteer to help small businesses and support entrepreneurship. The SBA's SCORE program is one place to look. Business leaders specifically interested in helping support small businesses located in and creating jobs for vulnerable Americans should visit businessadvising.org. This web site will match volunteer business professionals, based on their industry experience and discipline expertise, with an entrepreneur who is building a business that benefits vulnerable communities and needs that specific expertise. And there are others.

While we don't need a new organization, what we do need is a rallying cry from the president, Congresspeople and governors across the country. Business People Within Borders is easily a bi-partisan effort. Democrats will love it because it provides support to Americans who are generally struggling--small business owners and those who want to start a small business. And Republicans will love it because it leverages the market without additional regulation or subsidy. It's time for deadlocked elected officials to at least join together and use their bully-pulpit.

And we need the CEOs of major companies to get behind skills-based volunteering. CEOs can encourage employees to volunteer their business expertise right from their desk. Many an advising relationship happens by email, phone and Skype, meaning that the employee can make a big impact, with relatively little time away from corporate productivity. And there is some evidence to suggest that employees who are encouraged to volunteer and feel satisfied that they are making a difference, are actually more productive.

We need to celebrate the volunteers who are helping support entrepreneurship, small business and job creation in America. Numerous success stories are out there. Consider San Diego-based Discount Glass and Mirror which took advantage of Pacific Community Ventures' Business Advising program. Discount Glass and Mirror was near bankruptcy when owner Anthony Bortz connected with PCV volunteer advisor, Bill Parker. Bortz worked with Parker to better understand and refine his cost structure, processes and supply chain. The effort put Discount Glass and Mirror back on track, saving 28 jobs. The company showed a small profit in 2012 and has since added 13 new jobs, for total employment of 41.

With a rallying cry from on high and major corporate CEOs joining the bandwagon, Business People Within Borders could scale nationally with relative ease. Think of the impact that thousands of Bill Parkers, working with the thousands of Discount Glass and Mirrors out there, could have.

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