Skills-based volunteering versus service donations – what’s the difference?

Are there really right and wrong ways to engage with charity? A common assumption is that charities should just take what they can get, but charities aren’t begging bowls, they are organisations that provide a vital function within society. If they are to thrive, we need to think strategically about how to help them.

Skills-based volunteering is on the rise because it provides benefits for both the charitable organisation and those offering their support. There are other ways to engage with charities too, including through service donations, product donations and of course money donations. We explore the key differences between volunteering types so that you can take your CSR initiatives to the next level.

Skills-based volunteering 
Skills-based volunteering allows people on an individual or company level, to get involved with their community by harnessing their skill sets. Rather than delivering their company service for free, employees who volunteer employ skills learnt in the workplace to address particular pain points in a variety of ways.

Skills-based volunteering is unique, it differs from unskilled activities that usually take place on team days out and site visits e.g. fence painting. Whilst some charities welcome this kind of help, it is important to first consider whether these activities add value to the work of the charity, or simply use their resources. A highly trained web designer painting a fence might cost the charity in materials and refreshments, but the web designer using their skills to help the charity digitise, adds value to the organisation.

Here’s some viewpoints from charities (taken from survey over 500 respondents):

  • 70% of charities say they would benefit from skills based volunteering, yet only 40% receive this
  • Often skills-based volunteering responds to a particular need within a charity, is negotiated between both parties and is bespoke
  • Over 40% of charities ranked unskilled time as the least important resource they get
  • 40% of charities do not benefit from one off/ one day voluntary input
  • over 50% of charities report taking on volunteers they did not need in order to secure partnerships with companies
  • 10% of charities are currently mentored by company representatives whilst over 45% claim they would value this
  • “Money is tight – but skills are high and time is available – companies could offer their skilled workers for strategy, design, training remotely” (Songbird Survival, our COVID-19 response initiative survey)

If the charity is flexible in their requirements, the supporting organisation must decide how best to deliver the volunteering. Will each volunteer have an allocated amount of time to donate to a charity of their choosing? Or will volunteers work in groups? How will the time be distributed e.g. hourly, weekly, through workshops or seminars? All these factors are important to establish before work starts and it can be useful to open a dialogue about what suits the charity best. Without proper organisation, the resources charities use facilitating corporate volunteers can outweigh the benefits of bringing them onboard.

Example 1
A finance company that has experts in tax, legal, asset management and business growth, might work with a charity by offering a team of 5 employees for a cumulative 5 days giving advice and strategy in relation to how they manage their finances.

Example 2
A finance company produces a series of workshops on different topics, hosted by an internal team. Following the workshops, each charity is assigned an ambassador to help address a specific or niche pain point on a more long term basis.

Skills-based volunteering can be considered more of a mutual agreement than a professionally produced service, this means that the volunteers are not liable. However, it is advised that all work should be valued as highly as paid work and that quality should be aligned with any professional services.

Service Donations
Service donations differ from skills-based volunteering. Service donations are usually a company’s standard service offering at no cost. Service offerings are often seen as a simple way to engage with charities and social enterprises, they are an “off the shelf” method for social impact. They can also be a great way to get your brand’s name known. A company is liable when offering service packages and enter into a contract with their partner organisation in the same way they would a paying client.

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