The Capacity Commons

Leverage Online Tools to Engage Pro Bono Resources and Build Capacity for Your Organization

The social sector capacity gap is real. There are more than 1.6 million nonprofits operating across the United States alone, making up 10 percent of the national workforce and engaging an estimated 63 million volunteers. As critical as these organizations are to our economic and social fabric, they often face a challenging funding environment to support critical infrastructure and growth needs, with few options to build them. Unlike their counterparts in the private and public sectors, social sector organizations are commonly limited in their ability to invest in sustaining functions such as strategic planning, leadership development, technology, and human resources. Indeed, nonprofits spend an average of between two to eight percent on these critical functions while the private sector spends 20 percent or more.

One emerging, and increasingly popular, option to address this gap is skills-based volunteerism, also known as ‘pro bono,’ both in-person and virtually. To date, more than 4 million professionals have raised their hand to volunteer their expertise via LinkedIn. The New York Times recently reported that digital volunteer platforms are showing double to triple digit increases in engaged citizens.

Enter Capacity Commons, a newly launched one-stop shop for skills-based volunteerism to address both the lack of access to pro bono resources and the know-how to effectively deploy them. The free online platform provides social sector organizations with resources, interactive tools, and a network to help them understand how pro bono service can best support their work, design and implement a skilled volunteer project, and measure the immediate and long-term impact of pro bono projects.

Enter Capacity Commons, a newly launched one-stop shop for skills-based volunteerism to address both the lack of access to pro bono resources and the know-how to effectively deploy them.

Capacity Commons is a new one-stop shop for skills-based volunteerism. Nonprofits are encouraged to visit the site at capacitycommons.org to access tools and resources to guide them through the seven steps to a successful pro bono project.

The data indicates effective skills-based volunteerism is an important opportunity for nonprofits to meet infrastructure needs. What’s more, skills-based volunteerism increases the value of volunteer time 7:1, based on the Independent Sector’s value of a skilled volunteer hour compared to traditional direct service volunteering. At Common Impact, our research supports this trend, indicating that 90 percent of nonprofits report needing more volunteer support and more than 72 percent believe that they could increase their impact through skills-based volunteers.

So, what’s stopping nonprofits in need of skilled volunteers from effectively engaging in pro bono resources and integrating skills-based volunteerism as a strategic, sustainable resource for their organization? Unfortunately, many nonprofits report difficulty in accessing or quantifying the value of pro bono resources, work that is often deprioritized by their board and staff. This means that the funding gap for nonprofit capacity building also includes a knowledge gap.

Developed through a collaboration with skilled service leaders such as Charles Schwab, Points of Light, United Way, PYXERA Global, Taproot Foundation, CreateAthon, and the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, Capacity Commons is designed to encourage more nonprofits to leverage skilled volunteers and help to institutionalize this effective model of partnership and volunteer support.

Capacity Commons is designed to encourage more nonprofits to leverage skilled volunteers and help to institutionalize this effective model of partnership and volunteer support.

The site guides social sector organizations through a step-by-step process for skills-based volunteerism, allowing users to:

  • Learn about skills-based volunteering and how to apply this resource to capacity challenges at their organization. As interest in skilled volunteerism grows, this important step in the pro bono process can help an organization find the best ways to engage business volunteers in their work.
  • Prepare the organization for pro bono support by understanding how to engage the board, leadership, and staff in this work. Organizational preparedness is a critical component to a successful skills-based volunteer project. The online tool will walk an organization through questions about strategy, leadership, and funding to help staff determine the right time to engage in pro bono work, as well as provide resources to help prepare for skilled volunteers, whether for immediate reception or to support future work.
  • Scope a skilled volunteer project that will produce the results the organization needs and help recruit the best volunteers for the job. Carefully scoping a pro bono project is important for both the volunteer and the organization. Scope creep and shifting priorities can easily derail a skills-based volunteer engagement. Project scoping templates and resources available on Capacity Commons can help avoid frustration and guide an organization to a right-sized project and just the right volunteer.
  • Source volunteers through a variety of local, national, and global channels that can help organizations find individual volunteers interested in sharing their expertise. This is especially important for rural organizations, which often have trouble finding skilled volunteers outside of business hubs.
  • Implement a project with help from volunteer and project management tools
    and templates. Tools available in this section will help guide an organization through the project management process and support a staff member in developing or flexing their project management skills.
  • Evaluate and measure results for both the short and long-term impact of a skilled volunteer project. Understanding and communicating the impact of a pro bono project can help to solidify partnerships and ensure on-going volunteer support for your organization.
  • Repeat the process as needed to continue to build skills-based volunteerism as an important organizational resource. When done well, pro bono can be a sustainable and effective resource to help build social sector capacity. Capacity Commons has the capability to enable organizations to build experience with skilled volunteers, making engaging pro bono services easier and more frequent.

Nonprofits can rely on Capacity Commons—an on-going and updated resource that incorporates lessons learned and best practices in pro bono service. The site is available to all: visit, use the tools, share this resource with organizations in your network, and then share your experiences on the site, contributing to the community of practice, as we collectively improve this tool and ensure that pro bono becomes a mainstay in effectively engaging volunteers and building social sector capacity.

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