Editor’s Note: We know tech funding is a struggle and that most organizations have to scramble just to keep their tech running day to day. A few weeks ago, Common Impact mentioned to us that they thought not enough nonprofits were utilizing IT volunteers or were not getting what they needed out of the relationship. We agreed and asked them to write a blog post that made the case for IT volunteers and offered a few tips to help organizations get started. 
By Lauren Chasanoff 

How valuable are volunteers to your organization’s technology infrastructure? Believe it or not, this question actually sparks some controversy. Not all nonprofits are comfortable engaging volunteers as a key technology resource because it’s often hard to know how skilled the volunteer is or whether the person will see a project through to completion.

Those are real concerns, but with smart management, there is more opportunity than ever to engage skilled technology volunteers—individuals want to do meaningful work and companies are learning that they truly can do well by doing good. A successful IT volunteer program can open up incredible opportunities to increase your operating capacity.

Why Engage IT Volunteers?

Establishing and maintaining effective IT systems is critical for nonprofits of all sizes, but it is also expensive, and too complex for the average nonprofit to manage without real expertise on hand. Larger nonprofits likely have one or several employees and/or vendors dedicated to managing IT systems, but even they find that their vision often outpaces their resources.

Regardless of your organization’s size or budget, IT volunteers have real value. They:

  • Provide added capacity to realize your vision
  • Represent potential donors
  • Broaden your network in the community, which can lead to valuable partnerships with local businesses and community organizations.

Why Do Some Nonprofits Hesitate to Engage IT Volunteers?

There are several unknowns that tend to crop up when nonprofits engage technology volunteers:

  • Does the volunteer have the right skill set and knowledge to fit our needs?
  • How can we ensure our technology needs are met in a timely manner?
  • What happens if this volunteer disappears?
  • What happens when the project is over?

The fact is, volunteers represent an incredible potential resource for your nonprofit, but one that requires careful planning and management to avoid risky system failures.

At Common Impact, we’ve spent 15 years planning and supporting hundreds of skills-based volunteer projects. While we certainly think that working with an organization like ours can be a big benefit to your organization, we understand that it’s not always possible to do so, or isn’t always the right fit for your needs.

Thankfully, we have learned some universal best practices you can implement to make the most of your IT volunteer engagements.

Quick Tips for Successful IT Volunteer Management

Strategize—Before you engage a technology volunteer take real time to prioritize and define your needs, understand your capacity to absorb a skilled volunteer, and identify important timing considerations.

Find the Right Fit—Define your needs and expectations for a professional volunteer and write a volunteer job description that outlines these goals. Take the time to interview the volunteer—remember this person will likely be working closely with you, your staff, and your systems.

Structure the Engagement—Once you’ve found the right fit, structure the engagement as a professional volunteer experience. Write a volunteer agreement, schedule regular check-ins, and establish a protocol the volunteer should follow to regularly document anything a future volunteer, staff member, or consultant would need to know.

Manage & Support Your Volunteer—Fully onboard your volunteer and stay involved throughout the engagement. Repeatedly check on the status of the project against the plan and expectations you’ve previously discussed, but also make sure you offer yourself up as a resource and support.

Celebrate Success & Wrap it Up—Set time aside to thank your volunteer and celebrate their accomplishments. For more discrete projects, set a transition or wrap-up meeting when the work is complete. Make sure you have all of the information you need to maintain the solution provided, and anything a future volunteer or consultant may need to solve future challenges.

Interested in Learning More About Common Impact?

Our training services program brings together diverse nonprofit professionals to learn from cross-sector volunteer industry experts. Our trainings are designed to strengthen the nonprofit community, enhance overall organizational effectiveness and provide tips and best practices on implementing meaningful skills-based volunteer opportunities for passionate nonprofit leaders.

For additional resources, check out Common Impact’s readiness roadmap. This tool helps nonprofits navigate skills-based volunteering. You may also be interested in reading our blog, or checking out Pro Bono Perspectives, where you can get a sense of how this work looks on the ground, and some helpful resources for a variety of players.

About the Author

Lauren Chasanoff

Lauren manages Common Impact’s Marketing and Operations systems and leads the training services program to provide helpful resources to the nonprofit community. Lauren is an organizational guru and works closely with all facets of the organization to make sure Common Impact’s systems and processes are both effective and efficient. As most of her day-to-day is dedicated to strengthening internal systems, she understands the importance of capacity building first hand, as well as the challenges nonprofits face.

Contact Lauren for news about upcoming trainings at lchasanoff@commonimpact.org