Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Volunteering to be in the spotlight? Or in it for the haul?

What inspires you to volunteer for a cause or org you love?

You want to make an impact, right? You want to make a difference, right?

But when we seek out those opportunities do we look for what would help the org the most or do we look for the opportunities where it makes us feel like we helped? And do we just want to go in, do some quick volunteering and feel good? Or are willing to dig in, invest some time and get messy for a longer impact?

Tutoring, serving food and coaching for youth sports are awesome ways to volunteer. This type of help is needed and appreciated. Many organizations have their whole service delivery built around volunteers. And  it works well! But this need will never go away, they will always need that next volunteer, so while the impact and need is obvious, the impact is short.

The reality of many nonprofits today though centers on a struggle with their operations, tech and finance:
  • Overhead myth - pressure from Funders and donors to keep overhead low, pushing nonprofits to neglect their operations and infrastructure
  • Nonprofit Scarcity Cycle - Unrealistic Funder Expectations leads to Pressure On Nonprofits to Conform leading to Misleading Reporting And Overhead “Phobia” which confirms Funder expectations.
  • Rapid Tech Changes - digital content, cloud technologies, security/privacy, mobile apps, online fundraising, social media and so many more technologies creating opportunities for nonprofits, But many nonprofits lack the time, skills, resources, planning and strategy to leverage these tools and opportunities
  • Compliance - it seems like every time we turn around there is a new regulation or policy nonprofits have to comply with, whether it is financial reporting in the 990, HIPPA for Case Management, HR rules for staff, FASB changes in financial statements, PCI Compliance for credit cards and so on.
  • Data Transparency - Donors want to see what their donations do. Funders want impact reports. The public wants to know salaries, fundraising expenses and everything else. 
But before I go too far with my rant on these topics, lets get back to why any of this even matters to volunteering.

Are you willing to use your professional skills or expertise to have a lasting and deep impact on a nonprofit? 

Are you willing to step out of the spotlight and into the Back Office to help nonprofit staff strengthen their operations and infrastructure?

Yeah, helping in the Back Office is not as glorious and is not as directly tied to the mission or the cause, but help a nonprofit strengthen their infrastructure or operations can have a much more lasting impact.

By volunteering with your skills and expertise to assist a nonprofit with their financial management, technology, HR, project management, data needs, marketing or other operations you can really help. Often nonprofit staff just need some coaching, someone to talk to or just ask a few questions.

I currently volunteer for an org called The Cara Program in Chicago on their Tech Advisory Board and help in this way. (I have a post all about Advisory Boards) Serving on a board or a committee is a great way to provide your expertise.

Nonprofits often need help with:

  • Project Management
  • Financial, Legal, HR Management
  • Data Analysis
  • Managing RFP processes
  • Process Improvement
  • Strategic and Operations Management
  • And more....
If you don't have a current connection to a nonprofit, but still want to help, there are lots of great websites to help you find an org:
This type of volunteering does require a different approach and commitment though.  If you start working with an org, you should be willing to take the time to follow through and get involved. Another key will be to make sure that whatever you do can be sustained by the org.

And just a quick plug for how NetSuite.org and NetSuite goes out of their way to encourage all NetSuite staff to do pro bono work for nonprofits using NetSuite and giving 2 paid days off to volunteer for whatever nonprofit they want (doesn't have to use NetSuite).

Now get out there and volunteer in the Back Office!

Looking forward to more of you helping nonprofits scale, grow and make a difference.

Oh, and I forgot to include a presentation I helped work on which talks about how to leverage skilled or technical volunteers.