Can Short-Term Volunteers Really Make an Impact?

Mark Horoszowski

Mark Horoszowski is the co-founder and CEO of MovingWorlds.org.

This is a question we get a lot, and if you scour the internet, you’ll see a big and very opinionated debate on this very topic, often based on limited anecdotes and not backed by date.

Over the last 10 years, having supported over 1,000 skills-based matches on our platform, we’ve tried to answer this question with research, both qualitative and quantitative. Beyond our own data, we’ve analyzed findings from our corporate partners and global development partnerships.

The answer to the question, “Can volunteers, on short-term and/or long-term projects help an organization make a bigger impact?”, is a resounding yes — PROVIDED volunteers are working on a real “problem that needs solving” for the organization. In our research and work, here are 7 critical elements that skill-based volunteer projects need to be successful:

  1. The organization has identified its own need(s), and the project was not “made up” or proposed by the volunteer or a third-party. The projects that are identified should address local talent gaps.
  2. The volunteer and organization work together to plan the engagement, with a focus on partnership and learning about effective collaboration and cross-cultural effectiveness.
  3. The project focusses on solving the most pressing, skills-based challenges of the organization.
  4. Both parties ensure a transfer of knowledge and skills to local team members as part of the project
  5. As part of the project, the volunteer should identify opportunities to improve long-term organizational strategy and capability.
  6. The volunteer take initiative to help the organization build connections to a global network by empowering initiatives already in progress.
  7. During the planning phases, an agreement has been reached on project transition and sustainability once the project ends.

Our findings were featured in Stanford’s Social Innovation Review with the article, Ensuring Skilled Volunteers Land with Impact. More recently, we connected-the-dots with other research in a white paper published in Next Billion, How to Help Social Enterprises Scale.

To be clear, volunteers won’t always be the solution to an organization’s challenges. However, in as little as a few days, volunteers — or Experteers as we call them — can indeed provide needed training, consulting, and/or project-based support that enables social impact organizations to solve pressing challenges, upskill their teams, improve their operations, enhance their strategy, and/or tap into valuable networks and partnerships.

You might like:  7 Must-Attend Conferences for CSR Professionals and Social Intrapreneurs in Fall 2014

MOVINGWORLDS.ORG BLOG