Author: Brian Kurth

“Our immersive team projects have been put on hold, making our virtual volunteering initiatives more important than ever. Our employees’ desire to lend their skills is also greater than ever…and the needs of our nonprofit partners are growing. We have an opportunity to really boost our program.”

– Kendra Ott, Autodesk Employee Impact

Autodesk and other socially-minded businesses and social-change organizations, traditionally respond to the needs of nonprofit organizations around the world by sending teams of subject-matter experts to guide and support local activities. In the wake of COVID-19, many projects already underway were understandably put on hold and new projects were delayed.

Now that we’ve had our collective wait-and-see, some organizations are figuring out how to enable more volunteers to do more good in more places—right now—with virtual skills-based volunteering.

Also known as pro bono consulting, virtual skills-based volunteering enables and empowers employees to remotely (and safely) donate their time and expertise via videoconferencing. It’s social-distancing for organizations on the front lines of social change. Enterprising businesses and other organizations are increasingly using this model to connect their in-house experts in software design, finance, marketing, human resources, data visualization, and other occupations to help when and where help is most needed. And it’s not just in response to COVID-19. Volunteers were addressing a variety of challenges before the outbreak, many of which have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Virtual skills-based volunteering scratches two itches by simultaneously helping nonprofit organizations fulfill their missions and by enabling the employees of socially conscious organizations to engage in meaningful, non-revenue-generating work. Today’s workforce is increasingly motivated to use their time and expertise in ways that benefit humankind, and they are looking to their employers to enable a new type of social compact—one that combines making financial contributions to their preferred charities with opportunities to apply their skills in rewarding ways. According to Blackbaud’s recently published 8th Annual Industry Review, “Employees are more likely to engage when companies offer both giving and volunteering opportunities—75% of companies that offer both giving and volunteering opportunities for the employees have twice the engagement of companies only offering one or the other.”

Virtual skills-based volunteering has at least five tangible benefits for employers.

  1. Increased employee engagement leads to a more satisfied, more productive workforce. Going virtual expands the number of employees who will derive satisfaction from contributing their time and expertise to social-change organizations. This is true for team projects and one-to-one engagements, where nonprofit partners connect with volunteer experts on a 1:1 basis.
  2. With no geographic restrictions, it’s easier than ever to curate a team of in-house experts to address challenges nearly anywhere in the world.
  3. It’s significantly less expensive than in-person volunteering. The cost of a branded platform and videoconferencing are a fraction of sending teams around the world.
  4. With the right platform, it’s easy to track the quantity and quality of engagements. Organizations can monitor progress and quantify real-world impact using the data captured in the virtual interactions between employees and nonprofit partners.
  5. It strengthens the brand of the host organization. There’s nothing wrong with socially conscious businesses and organizations also being brand conscious, and skills-based volunteering can advance both goals.

I get goosebumps when I think about how virtual skills-based volunteering is being used to combat COVID-19. Take the employees at a US-based communications firm that helped a city in the United Kingdom create an emergency communications plan to protect its citizens. And the purpose-driven start-up that worked with an employee at a data visualization company to rapidly create a platform that matches workers on the frontline of the crisis with short-term housing to self-quarantine. Who could forget the volunteer who answered a request from the health ministry of an African nation to help interpret their incoming COVID-19 data or the