Implementation: Creating a Strong Skills-Based Volunteering Program

Learn how to implement an SBV program with these tools and tactics.

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Implementation: Creating a Strong Skills-Based Volunteering Program

 The key to a successful implementation phase of a skills-based volunteering (SBV) or pro bono project is properly executing the selected project at-hand. At this point you have a strong understanding of what an SBV project includes, you’ve taken the appropriate steps to organize, identify and source your resources and needs, and now it’s time to put your plan into action. 

Project management will be a key component in implementing your SBV project. Project management is the discipline of planning, organizing, securing and managing resources to achieve specific goals. During this time, team members (including volunteers, nonprofit staff and an intermediary organization) refine content, determine project deliverables, objectives and milestones and continually touch base with project participants. The project manager, who is assigned to lead a probono volunteer or a team of volunteers, ensures all players are staying on task and working towards the common goal. 

The implementation phase comes with its own set of challenges. First and foremost, it is essential that you don’t begin executing your SBV program without taking the necessary steps to ensure your organization is prepared:

  • Board and management is engaged
  • The vision, mission and strategy of your organization is clearly stated Projects clearly defined as individual or group projects
  • Volunteers are recruited and available
  • Necessary equipment and budget available

Now that you’re ready – it’s time to implement. Let’s discuss implementation in three sections: introduction, execution and evaluation.

Introduction Phase

First, it is strongly recommended that the project manager responsible for managing the volunteers and project at-large and the volunteer manager take time to introduce his or herself to the volunteers and let them mingle as a group in their working environment. A strong, cohesive team will be an efficient team.

Explain the organization’s vision, strategy and programs to allow volunteers to understand the context of the project. This introduction phase will allow volunteers to assimilate into the organization’s culture, form relationships with staff members they will be working alongside and translate their business skills into the nonprofit ’s needs. SBVs are crucial to the success of a project. In order to keep them properly engaged, it is recommend to involve them in project scoping and development of the work plan and deliverables. Involving volunteers in the entire process will help strengthen their commitment to the project and organization.

During this phase, the nonprofit will be able to set expectations for the organization and volunteers. All parties involved (staff, management, volunteers) need to understand the benefits and challenges of skills-based, probono work. Defining the project details, work plan, working agreement, project goals and measurable success factors upfront as a cohesive plan will kick-off a smooth running project. The working agreement will be the foundation of the project – and allow for proper management of work load and resources every step of the way. Below is a recap of these responsibilities.

Responsibilities of the volunteer:

  • Learn the nonprofit sector and organization’s language
  • Proactively “onboard”
    • Understand the details of the organization
    • Meet project manager, nonprofit staff and key project players
    • Gather tools and useful resources
    • Understand the expectations of the nonprofit organization
  • Participate in various steps of project scoping and finalization
  • Finalize project scoping
  • Develop work plan, deliverables and timeline
  • Define project roles
  • Define working agreement
  • Set realistic expectations
  • Train nonprofit staff and management about SBV
  • Manage staff and management expectations
  • Finalize details with recruited volunteers (e.g. project scope, work plan, deliverables, working agreement)
  • Understand the volunteer’s expectations
  • Introduce the volunteer as a consultant working for free
  • Educate volunteers in all facets of project
  • Nonprofit staff and management

Responsibilities of the nonprofit organization:

  • Tools and resources available to volunteer
  • Working environment
  • Possible challenges and access to solutions/resources

Execution Phase

The key to the execution phase is properly monitoring all facets of the project to proactively address potential challenges. If possible, engage a volunteer manager or connect with an organization like HandsOn Network, the volunteer activation division of Points of Light, to ensure the efficient flow of all project phases. A HandsOn Network Action Center can help monitor the project and provide support to ensure that both the nonprofit and volunteers are attaining their goals.

The project manager is the ring leader of the execution phase. It is essential that they consult the documents established (e.g. work plan, timeline) to ensure that project participants are meeting deadlines and working collectively to reach the expected results.

It is recommended that project managers organize regularly-scheduled check-ins to discuss volunteer perceptions of progress, challenges to-date and future deliverables and deadlines:

  • In-person meeting at least once every other week
  • Weekly or bi-weekly conference calls
  • Numerous, daily email exchanges

Evaluation and Ending Phase

At the completion of any volunteer project it is pertinent to do a thorough evaluation. The volunteer manager and/or supervisor should spend time with the nonprofit staff and volunteers discussing the impact of the project, reviewing successes/failures and having candid conversations to learn what went well and what could be revised for the next project. Collecting feedback verbatim will help build a compelling story when it is time to recruit more volunteers for future projects. Remember to be attentive and listen to suggestions. Keep the communication open with your board and management to share project results and discuss best practices for future projects.

In some instances, volunteers will end their work early due to other responsibilities, job pressure, etc. In this case it is even more important to get a complete and detailed view of their role in the project. Leaving the project before its completion will require an updated work plan, review of deliverables and direction for the replacement for the replacement volunteer. This transition phase is crucial to ensuring long-term success for the project.

Important steps to take:

  • Review project and determine next steps
  • Evaluate short-term and long-term results based off measurable goals
  • Determine proper project transition steps to nonprofit organization
  • Gather and track volunteer feedback
  • Develop project story, collect verbatim quotes, pictures, etc.
  • Recognition and celebration of the volunteer work, skills and results

Tips for Flawless Implementation

  • Communication with nonprofit staff and volunteers
  • Focus on two to three smaller projects managed by a leader rather than taking on a large project first, remember: slow and steady wins the race
  • Keep your volunteers motivated and engaged
  • Structure projects and hold regular check-ins
  • Make the project fun and attractive – remember you’re depending on volunteers

Dos and Don’ts of a Successful Implementation Process



Start small

Start a program if you’re not prepared

Say no to a volunteer if it’s not the right fit

Start a program without engaged volunteers

Get buy in from all parties

Just make a task list

Take time to manage project

Forget the volunteer isn’t paid

Manage expectations with volunteers

Underestimate challenges

Communicate often, clearly and effectively

Reject feedback

Translate the nonprofit sector language

Fail to define goals

Give feedback, ask for feedback


Share project results with board and management


Recognize the work of the volunteer



Allison Olson

Contractor, Points of Light

Allison is a social impact and corporate social responsibility professional with over 8 years of experience in employee volunteerism and philanthropy. Most recently, Allison led Gartner’s Global Community Engagement program and supported Gartner’s D&I efforts. Prior to joining CEB/Gartner, Allison was a member of the Points of Light team. She supported various initiatives such as the Corporate Service Council, Civic 50 and Conference on Volunteering and Service. She is a registered yoga teacher with a passion for the outdoors. She is currently on sabbatical hiking the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia.
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