Skilled Volunteering – Making the Most of Employee Engagement

Had a call today with two people from a US corporate foundation looking for advice on making best use of their employee skills in the community. This started me thinking more about what we are doing here at SAP so thought I would write about this.

Most corporations these days have foundations to give money to community organizations and most send employees to work at the food bank at Christmas, plant trees on Earth Day and so on. While these are great team activities, companies can often make a larger impact by leveraging the skills of their employees in the community.

Non-profit organizations are often hamstrung by budgetary restrictions and can make great use of skills in IT, finance, marketing, sales, HR and pretty much any other business function. In fact, according to a survey by Taproot Foundation in 2008, 86% of non-profit executives  said it is a top priority for them to improve their organization’s ability to run effectively.

Over the years, we at SAP have had some great success with projects like:

  • Recruiting training
  • IT assessments
  • Business process analysis
  • Database design and integration
  • Board of Directors’ dashboard building
  • Sales and Marketing coaching

There are risks though —  a study from Deloitte in 2006 states that 77% of nonprofits believe skilled volunteers could significantly improve their organization’s business practices, but only 12% have been able to put volunteers to use in that way.

So why this discrepancy? In my experience I have seen three main causes of failed skilled volunteer engagements:

  • Out of control scope
  • Lack of understanding on both sides
  • Unclear and mismatched expectations

At SAP, we have tried to counteract these issues by:

  • Provide project backup and tightly manage scope. Just as with regular consulting engagements, we want to make sure that the project is well defined, roles and responsibilities are understood on both sides and there is a concrete plan. We have created case studies, template project plans and agreements for our most common engagement types.
  • Educating employees on the environment and challenges faced by non-profits. Ensuring our employees understand the cultural differences and approach the project in a respectful way. Just because we come from “business” doesn’t mean we automatically know best!
  • Making sure that employees understand what time is involved and have best practices on how to engage with managers to make that happen [More on this topic in a later post]. On the non-profit side, making sure that we have buy-in from the staff, board and management for the project and commitment to make people available when needed.

More next time on some examples of how SAP employees have volunteered their skills with community organizations. I would be happy to hear from others on their experiences with skills-based volunteer projects – either from the corporate or non-profit side.


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