How To Launch A Skills-Based Volunteering Program–And Make It Last

It’s well and good to talk about the need for more companies to help their employees volunteer, but how can they actually make it happen? Here is some advice from an already successful program.

How To Launch A Skills-Based Volunteering Program–And Make It Last

We already know that corporate volunteering campaigns have gotten smarter and more targeted as companies embrace skills-based volunteering (SBV). The challenge now is to tap employees’ most unique, valuable assets–the very finest of their job skills–to address community needs in deeply impactful ways.

This post is part of a series on the future of service in America, in conjunction with Catchafire.

At Morgan Stanley, our SBV program, called the Strategy Challenge, is in its fourth year. The Strategy Challenge matches teams of employees with 15 nonprofits; previous partners include Feeding America, Voices of September 11, and the Wildlife Conservation Society. Employees use their professional skill sets to provide strategic advice on issues critical to the nonprofits’ business models and growth strategies, drawing on the same analytical skills they use to serve clients in their day jobs.

How can you design a SBV program that works for your company and how to find the support to get it off the ground? Here are some tips:

  • Go after what your workforce really knows. Put employees’ core competencies to work and get to the crux of their skill set. For us, that means our professionals apply deep analytical rigor, modeling, and financial analysis for the nonprofits.
  • Make sure that your program matches your company’s culture. Our program taps our competitive spirit: After eight weeks working with nonprofits, employees present their recommendations for the nonprofits at a competition judged by experts from the academic and nonprofit sectors.
  • Consider your goals and design your program around them. For example, we wanted the Strategy Challenge to be a professional development tool, so our program provides employees with senior mentors who can serve as valuable sponsors and contacts over the course of their careers.

Launching a program like this–getting the buy-in from senior management and obtaining the resources–can feel daunting. But remember that the costs of other leadership development programs can be far more dramatic and won’t offer the incredible incremental benefits to your communities. Here’s our quick sell sheet to communicate the value of skills-based volunteering in your own workplace:

  1. It’s a professional development opportunity: Skills-based volunteering allows up-and-coming employees to deploy and refine their job skills in new ways. Between 90% and 100% of our professionals say the Strategy Challenge has helped them improve skills such as public speaking, strategic thinking, and client interaction. And companies can invite employees to apply to participate in SBV programs, turning it into a “reward program” of sorts.
  2. It’s a network-building opportunity: Well-designed SBV programs can strengthen internal relationships and productivity, because employees get the chance to collaborate with colleagues from other divisions.
  3. It’s a recruiting tool: A dynamic skills-based volunteering program is a draw to job seekers, especially Millennials looking for innovative ways to give back on the job. Nearly two-thirds of Gen Y employees say they would prefer to work for an organization that provides opportunities to volunteer their skills. Morgan Stanley launched its Strategy Challenge in 2009, after hearing from employees who wanted to participate in our firm’s microfinance work and other community-based projects. The Strategy Challenge was a response to our employees’ desire to contribute the finest of their expertise to solve complex social and community needs.
  4. It’s an employee engagement tool: Employees have reported feeling greater job satisfaction and stronger ties to both their colleagues and their employer after participating in skills-based volunteering. Our CEO’s participation in the competition that concludes our annual Strategy Challenge shows that SBV is valued at the highest level of the organization.
  5. It serves multiple bottom lines: SBV programs can make your nonprofit partners smarter and more strategic; enhance your young professionals’ job skills; and strengthen your company’s reputation as a responsible corporate citizen.

Any skills-based program needs to align with your own company’s culture and values; recognize the needs that exist in your community; and effectively capitalize on your employees’ specific skills. So far, Morgan Stanley has delivered 14,500 hours of pro bono services to 36 nonprofits, worth approximately $2.2 million, according to standards developed by the Taproot Foundation. Our 2012 Strategy Challenge kicks off this April, and we’re looking forward to another great year.


About the author

Joan Steinberg is Morgan Stanley’s Global Head of Community Affairs and President of the Morgan Stanley Foundation. Audrey Choi is Head of Global Sustainable Finance at Morgan Stanley.