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The Changing Landscape of Philanthropy: Skills-Based Volunteering

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By Lauren Coulston, Integration Manager, Women & Co.

In today's economic climate, corporations are leveraging limited resources while nonprofits are being stretched for resources like never before. These two challenges intersect at the point of skills-based volunteering. What is skills-based volunteering? It is an innovative approach that takes advantage of an individual's skills and experience, such as marketing or IT, to help organizations through pro bono services. This takes volunteering a step beyond building houses or planting gardens in the community.

We're witness to a game change in the world of corporate philanthropy. The Billion + Change campaign is sweeping the corporate philanthropy world. According to the website, "A Billion + Change is a national campaign to mobilize billions of dollars of pro bono and skills-based service by 2013 to address core issues our communities face across the country and around the world. Together we will transform how businesses leverage their employees to make a lasting impact on society by engaging, inspiring and mobilizing professional talent to build the capacity of non-profit organizations to better meet community needs." Lindsay Firestone, director of advisory services at Taproot Foundation, an organization whose mission is to lead, mobilize and engage professionals in pro bono service that drives social change, thinks this public motivation and awareness is akin to what caused a sea change in the 1960s that drove the legal community to adopt pro bono services as a responsibility of their profession.

According to Firestone, "Corporations today are increasingly recognizing the value of their resources beyond just cash, particularly their human capital." Jasmine Thomas, Program Officer at the Citi Foundation agrees, "This is no longer checkbook philanthropy, there are new models to address today's financial issues."

The landscape of volunteerism is changing -- do you want be a part of it? Skills-based volunteering is a great way to give back and hone your own skills as well. Here are two ways you can jump in:

1. Through your employer: As Firestone said, many companies today recognize the considerable talents of their employees and offer skills-based volunteer opportunities. In fact, Citi's recent Citi Skills Marathon, a day-long skills-based volunteer event, had colleagues from other companies attending so they could learn how to bring the model back to their own organizations.

2. Directly through an organization: You can learn more about specific skills-based volunteering opportunities through the national Billion + Change campaign or the Taproot Foundation, which works in five metro areas.

I recently had my own skills-based volunteer experience [hyperlink to blog post "Building My Skills in the Citi"]. I participated in the pilot Citi Skills Marathon, where over 50 Citi employees spent a day (hence the "marathon") using their expertise to help 10 nonprofits address critical projects. The experience was invaluable and I will be looking for more skills-based volunteer opportunities in the future.

About the Author:
As Integration Manager, Lauren manages Women & Co.'s strategic partnerships to syndicate content and build integrated programs on websites frequented by women. Lauren brings over 15 years of financial services experience and a passion for helping women feel financially empowered. Lauren holds a B.S. in Finance from Tulane University's A.B. Freeman School of Business. In addition to her role at Women & Co., Lauren is Events Chair of the Citi Working Parents Network NYC and serves on the Citi International Women's Day Steering Committee.