After many months of development and testing we are excited to announce the launch of Reach’s new digital service!
It connects charities in need of expertise with people who want to volunteer their skills and we believe that it will revolutionise skills-based volunteering in the UK. We are so pleased to share it with you.
Why skills-based volunteering can answer many of today’s problems
Why have we built this new service? It is a difficult time for charities: they must balance rising demand from service users with falling income. Pulled between the desire to do everything they can to help the people they were set up to help, and the need to manage the organisation wisely and sustainably, charities need a strong board of trustees, and effective management. And there are plenty of other challenges too. How to stay relevant, or even visible, in a fast evolving digital environment? How to address the change from grant funding to commissioning? Even small charities need to draw on a wide array of expertise to be successful today. Yet most charities are seriously undercapitalised.
Skills-based volunteering can help bridge this gap between need and resources. Of course charities need money to function – but donated expertise can make that money go a lot further. In fact, in our experience, donated expertise is often just as effective as paid for expertise, sometimes more so. And happily, there is an abundance of people willing to volunteer their skills. They just need to be asked. For example, a recent report from City Philanthropy found that 53% of London workers under 35 year want to volunteer more. And the factor that would most encourage them to do this? Someone to match their skills and experience to the appropriate charity….
Matching skills and experience
We’ve built our new online service to make it easier for charities to find, and to ask, skilled volunteers to help them. We’ve always been amazed by the fantastic calibre and generosity of the volunteers on our database, but sometimes they languished there, unasked but waiting. So we have created searchable public profiles for volunteers, and the ability for charities to contact suitable candidates directly. We hope that it will inspire charities to ask for a more creative range of help, and encourage people considering volunteering to make the leap.
We’ve also made it easier for professionals to find the right opportunity to volunteer their skills. You can get suitable roles delivered to your inbox, or create a profile and let charities find you. You can also ask questions of the charity before deciding to apply.
Increasing the impact
We want volunteering to be successful: for the volunteers to have a real impact on the charities they join, and to find the experience rewarding. For this to happen, it is not enough just to connect volunteers with organisations.
People come to volunteering with wildly varying attitudes and expectations – and that is true of both charities and volunteers. Charities vary hugely in terms of their size, culture and maturity. Our volunteers come from different industries, sectors, and stages of life. Add to this mix the fact that volunteer recruitment involves more negotiation than paid recruitment, and it is not surprising that misunderstandings and frustrations can arise.
And our solution? We have tried to tackle these problems in a number of ways. We have created a Knowledge Centre about volunteering and trustee recruitment, and we also offer one to one advice. To encourage follow through by charities, we have developed a system of online messaging with prompts and nudges. And we ask everyone – volunteers and charities – to sign up to the same community agreement, to help set mutual expectations. We will be watching with interest to see how this all works, and jumping in to help where necessary.
Of course, this is really just the start of the work. We will be developing, refining and extending the service on an ongoing basis. So please let us know what you think. We are keen to hear feedback!
And finally, thank you!
Building this online service has been a big project for Reach, and we’ve had a lot of help. Many volunteers and charities have given us valuable input at several stages, including the initial needs analysis and research, and several rounds of user testing.
An award from the Cabinet Office Innovation in Giving programme, and generous grants from Dulverton and The Clothworkers’ Company have financed the build. However, that is only half the story. Fittingly for a project which is all about fostering donated expertise, we have had pro bono support from IBM, Wildman and Herring, Nesta, and SAP via LawWorks.
The greatest contribution, however, has come from Reach’s own team of volunteers who have been instrumental in many key areas such as writing tender documents and database scripts, scoping the functionality, overseeing design work, organising the hosting set up, and much more… thank you!