05/08/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

On Volunteerism During Tough Financial Times

As the financial crisis continues without end in sight, many non-profits, especially those that provide social services, find they are being squeezed to breaking point. There's barely enough budget to continue providing regular services, much less hire more employees or expand services.

What many non-profits don't realize is there is a vast pool of extraordinary resources available to help them meet their goals, all for free. Thousands of professional women in Chicagoland have expertise and time-- not much, but maybe a few hours-- to volunteer their professional expertise and talents to help non-profits.

Let me share with you a brief example. Urban Initiatives, which engages Chicago-area children from under-served communities in after-school soccer programs that provide quality instruction, nutrition education, and a disciplined and structured team environment, had the passion, but not the expertise to expand their business model to reach more children in need. Urban Initiatives registered with WomenOnCall.Org, a free Web-based service that matches non-profits with professional women volunteers. Through the site, Urban Initiatives' executive director engaged the help of a Chicago-area resident with a background in human resources and information technology management to help develop a three-year strategic plan. Rather than volunteering as a coach or donating money, she spent a few hours researching the organization's strengths, weaknesses and opportunities, and provided a game plan for expansion utilizing the resources the organization already had. Time well spent.

So as non-profits continue to feel the financial squeeze, think about volunteerism in a new light. As a non-profit, consider building a relationship with a professional woman who would love to support your cause in her spare time using her professional background. And as a professional, think about using your skills in a non-conventional, but high-impact way by volunteering. As social service non-profits are being forced to shut their doors in a time of increased need, this could be one way to help keep them open.