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Skills-Based Volunteering

2012-05-01, Feature, by Maureen Hannan

Laura Toscano is Manager of Professional Skilled Volunteering for the Washington, D.C. volunteer placement nonprofit HandsOn Greater DC Cares. In this brief interview, Toscano describes the pro bono volunteering groundswell among Boomers--a trend that is changing the image of service "from the soup kitchen to the board room."

P&R: Please describe the increase you are seeing in service and volunteerism among those 55 and older. 

Toscano: [Boomers] represent an incredible wealth of experience, education, and skills.  Now more than ever, research shows that this generation wants to continue to do work that will make a positive impact in their communities while putting their expertise to good use. At HandsOn Greater DC Cares, the Skills-Based Volunteering Program offers a variety of opportunities to serve, from creating a marketing and communications plan for a nonprofit, to mentoring a young person to become the first in their family to go to college, to participating on a nonprofit’s Board of Directors.
We’re certainly not alone in this movement to create opportunities that will change the image of service from the soup kitchen to the board room. There is a groundswell taking place, especially among the Baby Boomer generation, in support of skills-based service opportunities. We see more individuals 55 and older registering to volunteer every day.

P&R: What types of volunteering are most popular among this demographic?  How do you successfully engage your volunteers? 

Toscano: It’s an exciting time because everyone is beginning to realize that not all volunteering requires paint.  Pro bono consulting, board service, and mentoring are all incredibly popular forms of volunteerism among this demographic. We’ve discovered that the key to engaging a more diverse demographic of volunteers is as simple as asking them to do something skill-specific. A call for folks to “volunteer” is so diffuse as to inspire little sense of civic responsibility. But when you need someone with a specific area of expertise to complete a definable project on a definable timeline, baby boomers and retired professionals raise their hand to give back.

Ninety-two percent of nonprofits don’t have enough pro bono resources, and this type of capacity-building project leverages six times more value per hour than a typical day of checking in books at the library. Pro bono service is also especially critical for retired professionals: It allows them to maintain the skills they have developed over a lifetime, see their work tied to positive impact, and remain connected to the community around them. 



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