THE BLOG
01/06/2015 09:19 am ET Updated Mar 08, 2015

For Best Volunteering Results, Add Skills

In case you haven't noticed, skills-based volunteering is fast becoming a popular way for companies and their employees to give back. So popular that it's the fastest growing trend in corporate employee engagement. According to CECP's 2014 Giving in Numbers report, the number of businesses that have some kind of pro bono program has increased from 30 percent to just over 50 percent in six years.

In the interest of spreading the message about skills-based volunteering, A Billion + Change partnered with Blackbaud and Riggs Partners to create a new e-book, which it has just released. Small Business, Big Purpose: A guide to skills-based volunteerism assesses the myriad benefits of skills-based volunteering and shares the positive experiences of a wide range of small businesses.

A Billion Plus Change has been on the forefront of the skills-based trend, inspiring more than 2,000 companies -- including more than 1,000 small businesses -- to leverage their employees' skills for good. Their message is that skills-based volunteering and pro bono service isn't just for lawyers, accountants and employees at giant companies; it's for everyone.

Since almost half of the U.S. workforce is employed by small firms (those with less than 500 employees), that means that an estimated 70.2 million people are working in almost 6 million firms, and that number jumps to 95.4 million when you add in mid-sized businesses, or two-thirds of the total workforce. That's a lot of potential volunteers who could be changing the world simply by offering their skills.

The recognition of the benefits of pro bono is long overdue. After all, pro bono has been a quiet partner in many of this country's key social movements over the past 75 years. For nonprofits, skills-based volunteering is more helpful than standard volunteering, offering a service that has greater impact and literal value. According to the e-book, data shows that "each hour of traditional volunteerism is worth $22.14 to the nonprofit. If you are contributing skills to a nonprofit, however, the value literally skyrockets. In these instances, the value of one person's skilled service can range from something relatively modest to hundreds of dollars an hour."

It's no secret that volunteering is appealing to Millennials, and the Millennial Impact Report documents exactly how important it is to create ways for this segment of the workforce to connect with causes through work. Turns out that 97 percent of all Millennials in the study preferred using their individual skills to help a cause, and a company's involvement with causes is the third most important factor to Millennials when applying for a job. Fifty-five percent were influenced to take a job after cause work was discussed in their job interviews, and of those, 55 percent had volunteered 10-20 hours in the previous month.

For volunteers, skills-based work tends to be more meaningful than standard volunteering, tapping into unique skills that they can leverage for a good cause. HR leaders are understanding that the impact goes even further; skills-based volunteering can also be viewed as "skills stretch", a mutually beneficial opportunity for leadership and skills training. And customers notice when companies are giving back in ways that generate real impact.

Here's what a few of the businesses featured in the e-book had to say about their experiences with skills-based volunteering:

BetterWorld Wireless is a national voice and data provider that leverages the power of people and mobile for making positive change in the world. Mobile devices allow people around the world to access information and opportunities that can empower them to create pathways out of poverty. BetterWorld Wireless is the first firm of its kind to apply the thriving buy-one-give one business model popularized by brands like TOMS Shoes to the U.S. mobile market through a program called Phone for Phone.

The company looks at skills-based volunteerism as core to its business and its business model. As a start-up technology company, the firm leverages its employees' IT skills as a way to give back. One example is the company's work with Black Girls Code, a nonprofit devoted to showing the world that African American girls can not only learn to code, but also be the "programmers of tomorrow." The nonprofit accomplishes this work through workshops and afterschool programs for girls from underrepresented communities.

BetterWorld Wireless wants people to love their wireless company. That means the company needs to provide more than a fair price and a high quality service; they must offer a service that connects with customers' personal values. In addition, volunteerism makes the company's Phone for Phone impact that much more meaningful and real for everyone at the company. Employees get to meet amazing people, get valuable feedback and witness the impact.

Chegg is a student-first connected learning platform that makes higher education more affordable, more accessible and more successful for students. Chegg employees participate in a wide variety of volunteer events, making personal decisions about how and where to serve. Examples of popular skills-based service include volunteering in STEM-based (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) mentorship programs with middle school students and participating in hackathons for local nonprofits. Chegg employees worked with TechBridge, a nonprofit that inspires girls to discover a passion for STEM, coordinating a full day of learning in the Chegg offices.

Providing time for employees to give back during work hours is a fabulous way to encourage service and build pride in the company. Chegg encourages employees to invest 40 hours of company time each year in volunteer service.

The SISGI Group is a consulting and research group that specializes in nonprofit capacity building. The organization requires each of its consultants to lead a pro bono consulting project annually with a nonprofit organization. SISGI's consultants provide services ranging from strategic planning, fundraising planning, grant writing assistance, evaluations and program design assistance. In addition, nonprofits can submit a request for projects for SISGI's pro bono services through the SISGI website to meet their specific needs.

SISGI's consultants have seen a direct return on investment with pro bono projects. At times, these projects evolve into paid projects with the nonprofit organization or their partners. The company's student interns gain valuable real world experience, a better understanding of the challenges nonprofits face, and ways to find solutions. Graduates of SISGI's internship program have indicated this experience has been invaluable in their professional development and their inability to problem-solve within their careers.

Small Business, Big Purpose: A guide to skills-based volunteerism also provides a helpful guide for how businesses can get started with their own skills-based volunteer program. To download the free e-book, click here.