Professional volunteers can be viewed in two ways: 1) Those who give volunteer service full time or perhaps significantly more time as a result of retirement from work; or 2) people who through education, training or experience acquire qualification as an “expert” in some field of human endeavor.
In a parish environment the second category might include the parish web master, an attorney on the parish council, a photographer, an architect, a plumber, a teacher, etc. Of course, any of the second category could also become a member of the first category as well. However, this article concerns professional volunteers or potential professional volunteers within the parish who have a highly developed skill that could possibly assist the parish to fulfill its mission.
What are some of the challenges and possible solutions in identifying, recruiting and working with professionals who may volunteer. Ideally, the relationship is mutually beneficial, mutually meaningful and mutually enriching. This may require some time investment by the priest but once in place, these people are very great blessings indeed! – as are all volunteers actually. But professionals who volunteer may present somewhat unusual challenges.
Nonprofits report that it can be hard to find the right volunteers and difficult to get projects completed because of budget shortfalls, limited volunteer time, and inadequate communication about expectations by both the organization and the volunteers, among other problems.
Most nonprofits indicate that working with pro bono volunteers was a last resort, because the challenges often outweigh the benefits. Yet 90 percent of nonprofits who use pro bono volunteers state they would use them again.
Nonprofits that are most likely to have a successful experience with skilled volunteers are those with a strong internal structure, clearly defined goals for projects, open lines of communication, a set timeline, dedicated staff for volunteer management, and defined budgets. In other words, the parish has adopted various effective and efficient traits from the for profit business community!
Five trouble spots may be encountered when working on projects with pro bono volunteers. Some solutions to these common challenges are suggested below.
Problem: Getting started with a pro bono volunteer project.
Solutions: Draw upon advice from your parish council, other parishes or nonprofits as well as publicly available resources, such as volunteer databases Taproot, Common Impact, and Volunteer Canada.
Problem: Finding professionals with the skills you need.
Solutions: When seeking volunteers, treat the process the same as you would for a paid position: check references, conduct interviews, don’t be afraid to say “no” when a volunteer does not seem to be a good fit for your needs.
Problem: Managing time.
Solutions: The recommendations include assigning a staff member to be the point person for the project and creating a realistic timeline based on staff availability to oversee the work.
Problem: Meeting deadlines and staying on track.
Solutions: To stay on schedule, hold meetings regularly and do not cancel them. Ask volunteers to commit to a realistic number of hours per week. Develop a contingency plan in case of problems.
Problem: Finding the means to implement the project. Often pro bono volunteers present a deliverable (e.g., a new database, a new organizational brand, or a fundraising strategy) but are not available to help implement it.
Solutions: Fully understand the cost of implementing the proposed project before you begin. Develop a statement of work for the project and, if possible, include implementation of the final deliverable as part of the volunteer’s services. If working with a corporation, ask for a grant to cover the cost of implementing the final product. Raise funds while the project is under way; build excitement about the potential impact of the project.