Five strategies for skills-based volunteering: Lessons learned from Cloudera Cares first-ever Global Day of Service

Categories: Corporate Events Philanthropy

Corporate volunteering is on the rise. However, only half of companies encourage their employees to participate in skills-based volunteering – defined as employees applying their abilities and specialized talents to challenges facing their communities.

As the Program Manager for Cloudera Cares, Cloudera’s employee giving and volunteering program at the Cloudera Foundation, I believe that we can have more impact if we offer employees opportunities for skills-based volunteering. That’s why for our inaugural Global Day of Service we partnered with local nonprofits on projects with a particular focus on improving tech literacy. In the UK, 80% of teachers believe that tech literacy is as important as reading or writing for success in the future. Tech literacy is not only about learning to code. It is more broadly about helping people gain the basic computer skills that we often take for granted, such as: creating and uploading resumes, downloading an app to get a ride to the airport, searching for a new doctor online, and so much more. It is also about inspiring and empowering people, especially girls and kids from low-income families, to find tech relevant and interesting.

To support 15 local nonprofits in their efforts to strengthen tech literacy, Cloudera Cares Global Day of Service brought together more than 400 employees across departments and functions in 13 cities and 5 countries.

Here are a few examples of the many ways employees volunteered their skills and talents:

  • Cloudera’s Singapore office kicked off the day as employees worked together to adapt computer mice for children with special needs.
  • In Tysons, VA and Palo Alto, CA employees tutored seniors and veterans on how to use mobile technology and computers.
  • To encourage an interest in STEM, Budapest employees taught girls how to code and build a computer game.
  • Young women from Girls Inc and the Girl Scouts of Northern California, joined employees in Cloudera’s Palo Alto and San Francisco offices to build STEM robots and participate in fun robotics challenges.
  • Staff in Nashua, New Hampshire spruced up and organized MakeIt Labs, New Hampshire’s first community maker space.

Here is what we learned:

  1. Make the case
    While Cloudera has a civic-minded culture that places a high value on giving back most employees understood volunteering as helping out at a food bank or painting a school. We learned that we needed to communicate the Day’s focus on tech literacy in a way that made it less abstract, spoke to concrete impact and featured activities that allowed the involvement of everyone, business staff, and engineers alike. Also, even though Cloudera has a generous volunteering policy in place the support of senior management up to the CEO level was invaluable to signal people that volunteering during work time is not only permitted but encouraged.
  2. Make it easy
    The variety of activities offered, onsite/offsite, different lengths of time, benefitting different groups, allowed people to pick and choose what was most attractive to them and worked best for their day – despite having one overarching thematic umbrella.
  3. Make it local
    Volunteering is understood and practiced differently in regions and cultures across the world. In response, we established a network of Cloudera Cares Ambassadors to represent offices with more than 30 employees. In addition to mobilizing and engaging local employees, this also offered leadership opportunities and visibility with executive leadership for a strong group of highly engaged mid-level professionals.
  4. Make it engaging
    Helping out at a food bank or painting a school gives volunteers a feeling of instant gratification. Skills-based volunteering – helping a nonprofit set up IT systems or supporting their finance team – may in comparison feel like one step removed. We found that the opportunity to directly interact with the nonprofits’ beneficiaries such as veterans or seniors was particularly helpful on a day that presented the first contact with skills-based volunteering for many employees. We are grateful to the nonprofits for making this direct engagement possible recognizing the challenges it entails.  
  5. Make it useful
    Skills-based volunteering is popular with nonprofits, who spend just 2 percent of their budgets on overhead (compared to 20% in the for-profit sector), as a way of bringing in additional resources in areas such as marketing, operations, strategic planning, finance, and technology. Marrying this ambition with a unique event such as a Global Day of Service requires preparation to scope out a realistic set of tasks, prepare volunteers, and design events in a way that ensures that the activities truly serve the needs and mission of participating nonprofits.

Of course, a day is just a start so the Global Day of Service is just one initiative of Cloudera Cares. In addition to offering hands-on volunteering options year round and a matching gift program to support individual passions and interest, we plan to offer more extended pro-bono volunteering opportunities as part of the Cloudera Foundation’s Data4Change program. We are also considering longer-term partnerships around skills-based volunteering with some of the nonprofits that participated in the Global Day of Service and others – with the objective to contribute to and increase their impact. Because, according to Points of Light “for many nonprofits, the value of skills-based volunteer services can be 500% greater than the value of traditional volunteer services.”

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