Skills-based volunteering has gained popularity in the last decade, but its spread in many countries has been accelerated by the pandemic and the recent war in Ukraine. What exactly is skills-based volunteering and how can you organize it in your company? Here are key lessons from one of the most successful companies in this field– SoftServe. 

Skills-based volunteering can be understood in many different ways but usually it’s the time someone spends using their unique talents, skills, and experience to work on a complex social or environmental cause. Recent research has shown that 68% of nonprofit professionals do not have the resources they need to do their work. That’s why skills-based volunteering is so important to help them grow and expand their reach.

Today, we are talking about skills based volunteering to a software company SoftServe, a founding partner of Tech To The Rescue. The company was founded in 1993 in Lviv, and currently employs over 13,000 people worldwide, many of whom volunteer for SoftServe internal volunteering programs.

The Open Tech Initiative at SoftServe

A flagship initiative of SoftServe is the Open Tech Project – an internal charity crowdsourcing platform, built to engage SoftServe’s employees in pro bono projects. The initiative works in a similar way to Tech To The Rescue – SoftServe searches for NGOs in need of tech support, and helps them build websites, applications, or platforms.

Every SoftServe employee can join on a voluntary basis, and can use any available time outside their billed hours used for commercial projects.

The results are very impressive. The program was launched just two years ago, and already more than 400 staff members have participated, implementing a total of 24 projects to date. Some of them are still active, others are in preparation.

“Participating in a project is very easy – our employees just need to fill out a simple form and after that they can be assigned to the project. Initiatives are communicated via email and internally within our internal communication channels. Each project also has an assigned project manager who coordinates the team’s work,” explains Michalina Gołąb, Senior Communications and CSR Specialist at SoftServe.

Michalina Gołąb has already noticed the program has brought internal benefits, including increased employee engagement and better communication between teams. “It’s a great opportunity for our employees to make a meaningful contribution to the world,” she says, “and they also get to work in the new technological field that is different from their daily work, which allows them to broaden their skills and experience.”

Recent Volunteering Projects

Łukasz Czyrny, Senior DevOps engineer at SoftServe, confirms her words. He led one of the Open Tech projects – Ładne Historie (Nice Stories) – a website development project SoftServe created for a foundation whose mission is to change the thought process around cultural education.

“I appreciated the difference from the usual projects we do for companies.. I learned the art of time management as I had other commercial projects at the same time. The whole team was very dedicated, which was great to see,” says Łukasz.

But Nice Stories is not the only initiative SoftServe is proud of. Another standout project is I Help Ukraine (Pomagam Ukrainie) – a platform that helps Ukrainian refugees build a new life in Poland, assisting them with important things like getting a PESEL number, finding housing and a job. The idea for the platform came from the Polish government and in the future it will be transformed into a platform that will meet the needs of all refugees coming to Poland. The project was developed within Tech To The Rescue.

This is how Oskar Klimczak, Business Analyst at SoftServe, describes his experience with the project:

I really appreciated gaining experience of working in the public sector. As a business analyst, I usually work on commercial projects and don’t come into contact with this kind of work. The government team approached the project with caution, but they were open to our suggestions, which was great. We showed them that the beauty of software projects is that you can test your ideas and iterate quickly.

The project is now completed, but it will likely be changed into a more universal concept in the future.

3 Key Skills-based Volunteering Tips from SoftServe 

What’s the key to such successful initiatives? What can other tech companies learn from SoftServe’s example? Here are the key thoughts shared by the SoftServe team:

1. Appreciate the input of your volunteers

Time and experience are the most valuable commodities that anyone who volunteers their skills can give. And we are not just talking about the developers, designers, and product managers who are directly involved in creating websites and apps for NGOs, but also the internal teams that help make the program possible in the first place. These can be the people who match NGOs with teams within the company, find new volunteers, or evaluate the success of the program at the end.

Agata Brusiło, Senior Digital Marketing Specialist at SoftServe, says “It really takes a village. And it’s important to remember that these people are really motivated to help. I think it’s also vital to appreciate them and find the right way to show that you value that commitment.

Often, the people who are engaged in these Open Tech CSR projects are also part of the People Excellence Program, which evaluates their progress based on their actions, skills and knowledge. For example, we consider volunteerism when deciding on a promotion, and we show our appreciation for these employees at company-wide events.”

2. Encourage skills based volunteering; don’t force it. 

It is important not to force this kind of engagement – it must come naturally.

Agata says, “We are really lucky to have great experts on board who want to get involved and help. But if someone does not want to participate or is not interested, we can not force them to. We can find ways to encourage people, but we can not force them.”

3. Spread the word about the benefits of volunteering

Encourage employees who have already participated in a skills-based volunteering project to tell their colleagues about their experience. What was the project like? What did they learn? Would they recommend it to others? This way, you’ll get real word of mouth that will help you get more people to participate.

“I think if you decide to take a shorter coffee break or devote one evening to helping others, you gain something, because you are building a product that you know will have a positive impact on people,” says Oskar Klimczak.

Łukasz Czyrny adds, “It’s about meeting other people and learning from them. Sometimes these projects require very strategic thinking, and you get to meet people from different countries and cultures. Also, of course, there is networking, learning how other people work – new tools, hard and soft skills. You have the opportunity to cherry-pick things that are interesting and that you might not have been able to work on in commercial projects.”

How volunteering supports broader EB efforts

For SoftServe, the OpenTech initiative is just one element of its CSR strategy. The company is involved in a number of other initiatives, such as planting trees or providing direct financial support to selected charities. But it is skills-based volunteering in particular that unites the company.

“We get a lot of praise for the support we give from our employees. It really connects us because we have a common cause. Not everyone can help with their technical skills, but everyone feels engaged because we share the same values,” admits Agata Brusiło.

Agata Brusiło believes that this can also have a positive impact on recruitment, as it is one of the most important motivating factors for socially engaged applicants. She says, “A person who is thinking of changing jobs might be more interested in a company that is mission-driven.”

It also has an impact on employee retention, as it noticeably improves employees’ job satisfaction and therefore encourages them to stay with the company longer.

Use your skills for Good

Together with SoftServe, we encourage any technology company to try skills-based volunteering – either as an internal program or by joining Tech To The Rescue, where we match top tech companies with high-impact projects from verified NGOs. By empowering changemakers to amplify their impact, we are changing the world for a little better – and make technology a common good.

This article is based on a LinkedIn live session by Tech To The Rescue and SoftServe from 26th July 2022. You can listen to the live recording here.

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