Picture this: it’s 7:30 p.m. on a typical shelter-in-place Wednesday. If someone asked you when you last wore shoes, you’d have to think before you answered. You’re in your comfiest sweats curled up on your favorite couch cushion (you’ve got a favorite couch cushion).
And right now, you’re helping a nonprofit half-way across the country build out a financial model to get them through the pandemic and meet the needs of the people they serve.
Just a story? Sure, but it could be your story (depending on your sofa preferences).
Virtual pro bono is a time-tested model that gives nonprofits access to experts around the world and lets professionals share their skills from anywhere with an internet connection. It also offers professionals like you the opportunity to support a nonprofit without leaving the house.
But how do you know if virtual pro bono is right for you? How does it even work?
We’ve seen a big spike in interest during the pandemic and thought now would be a good time to share six of our top tips for successful virtual volunteering (whether you’ve been at it for years or are just getting started).
Do a personal inventory of your time and technology first.
How much time do you really have to fully devote to pro bono? Look at your daily activities and crunch the numbers honestly. Only take on projects you know you’ll have the time for.
Is your home office/computer up to the task? If you’ve been working remotely, you’ve probably already got a desk set up that fits your needs (sofa optional). If you don’t, then now’s the time to make one!
Pro(bono) tip: New to working from home? Check out our team’s personal tips for focus, productivity, and remembering to relax—once you have habits that serve you, it’ll be much easier to assess how much time and energy you have to give!
Carefully consider the fit—choose the right opportunity for you.
Whether it’s a face mask tutorial, a sourdough recipe, or a pro bono project description, our advice remains the same: read all the details before you begin.
Simple advice, but very useful. Nonprofits write out detailed descriptions (which we always read before they go live on Taproot Plus) to help you choose the right opportunity, so read them carefully before you apply!
We recommend only applying for opportunities that call for skills you’ve been using professionally for three or more years, so make sure to check the skills-needed section all the way at the end.
Set expectations for your virtual communication and file sharing.
Once you’ve applied, interviewed, and matched with a nonprofit, it’s a great idea to clarify the practical parts of how you’ll be communicating. In person it’s easy to share hard copies of files and meet up casually to go over details. But when you volunteer remotely, all of those elements need to happen digitally—and you want to plan for them before they crop up.
Imagine starting a presentation only to realize that the folks on the other end can’t see your screen—or finishing a massive design file only to find out that they can’t open it on their end.
Decide on details now, skip the struggles later.
Take notes to make the most of every call.
Taking notes is always a good idea, but it’s an essential habit for remote meetings where tapping someone on the shoulder to follow up isn’t an option. Accurate notes cut down on redundant back-and-forth and minimize course-correction later in the process.
It’s also a habit that really respects the nonprofit team’s time and energy. Right now organizations everywhere are strapped for those resources—it’s a big part of why they need you!
Make time for personal connection.
Yes, cutting down on the back-and-forth is important, but that’s not to say “avoid talking to each other.” Quite the contrary! When you only communicate virtually, it’s easy to focus on tasks and miss out on the friendly small talk that makes collaborating comfortable.
We’ve found that everyone involved has a more satisfying experience when they take time to connect on a personal level—building in time for fun ice-breakers during each check-in makes more of a difference than you might think!
And as always: treat every project as though you were a paid consultant.
This is our ‘golden rule’ of pro bono, and when you volunteer remotely it’s even more important to keep in mind. No one plans to do things half-heartedly, but you’ve got to keep that energy and focus going till everything is completed.
Think about it: this task is just as important to your nonprofit partner as it would be to your regular clients or boss—so it’s got to be just as important to you.