How Skills-Based Volunteerism Creates Transformational Experiences

December 7, 2016 Jamie Serino

One of my core values, both personally and professionally, is to give back to my local community. Because of the nature of my work, I’m lucky to be surrounded by many purpose-driven organizations making a difference for people, animals and the environment. One of those organizations is the YWCA of the City of New York (YW), a nonprofit organization that offers job training, daycare, and after-school programs to New York City women and their families. A few weeks ago, we aligned with the YW for a skills-based volunteering project with one of their partners, Independence High School in Manhattan. My colleagues and I spent an afternoon of job shadowing at our office with ten students from the high school.

Since our work is at the crux of the social good sector, it was important for us to share more about the sector as whole. We discussed the work of our customers, including some of the issues they’re working on and how we help them through the use of technology. I asked the group, “What do you think are the most pressing problems in the world today?” The most prominent answers were hunger, poverty, racism, education, police brutality, and pollution. Then I showed the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and asked if anyone knew what they were, or if they had ever seen them. No one had. I explained why the UN created these goals, how they relate to everyone from individuals to large companies, organizations and governments, and why they matter to us. I pointed to the goals that lined up with the issues they named, and I suggested that they pick one or two and embrace the idea of contributing to fixing that problem over the next 14 years. Then, when the UN makes their assessment of progress made toward these goals in 2030, they can know that they helped make a difference.

Our discussion then organically evolved into a conversation about how the mindset of businesses are changing toward a notion of profit and purpose. The students were quite interested in this. We talked about how some businesses are founded on this idea of purpose and others are making changes to get there. There is a movement toward purpose and profit alignment that will be in full swing by the time they graduate college, and they will be in a position to contribute to that.

After the orientation, we helped each student create his/her own LinkedIn profile. They really got involved here, asking for advice as they crafted summary statements and job descriptions. Most of the students even reached out to connect with me on LinkedIn the next day! I look forward to staying connected with them and plan to do whatever I can to help mentor them as they continue their education and pursue their careers.

The next step was for smaller groups of students to spend time with certain staff members so that they could learn about specific roles—customer service, IT, marketing, and sales. The job shadowing was a mix of learning what the role was, responsibilities that come along with the job and hands-on learning. One student sat in on a customer call with a sales account manager, others helped problem solve with the IT team, and some participated in a brand marketing idea session.

There were also unexpected discoveries and learning experiences during the day that proved why mentoring is so important. One example was a student that was interested in theatre being randomly paired with one of the tech support staff members who just happened to have worked backstage on Broadway! The employee was able to give her concrete guidance on how to break into theater in NYC, and the experience turned into a very meaningful one for both.

Interacting with the students was very rewarding and eye opening for my colleagues and me. We gained invaluable insights from a generation that is ramping up to have an impact on the world. When the day was over I remember hoping that they all walked away having gotten something out of it. I was happy to learn through our LinkedIn interactions and our follow-up with the YW that it was a big hit with the students.

Our number one goal was to have a positive impact on the students and to guide them in some way. Feeling confident we achieved that goal, we started to assess how the day was for our volunteers. Was it a meaningful and worthwhile skills-based volunteering activity for our office? In reflecting on the entire process, from the planning stage to saying goodbye to the students, we felt that the activity was mutually beneficial. By coming together to plan an engaging day for the students, new connections were made between people who generally don’t have the opportunity to work together. Volunteers also gained new insight into their own areas of expertise and skills by sharing them with a new audience. It was also a bonus for our team to feel that we could contribute in a small way to SDG #4, Quality Education, while answering the call that the UN is making through IMPACT2030 – that the private sector can, and must, further the SDGs by aligning employee volunteering in the service of the sustainable development agenda.

We look forward to finding new ways to give back and contribute to our local community in whatever capacity we can by collaborating with organizations similar to the YW. In doing so, we will strive to create transformational experiences for our volunteers to ensure that everyone wins.

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