Helping Them Help Others

Management Assistance for Non-profits

written by Ellen Freudenheim, MPH

Baby Boomers with professional and management skills often seek meaningful volunteer work in local or national non-profit organizations. Some would love to work as unpaid management consultants for non-profits to help make the world a better place. And why not? People with skills in business, technology, law and communications have something to offer.

A decade worth of research shows that the non-profit sector does indeed need management assistance. The challenge is connecting the dots between one individual boomster with a finely honed skill set, and an organization that needs those skills.

In Non-profit Management Consulting, the Buzz Word is “Capacity Building”

Most non-profit organizations can clearly articulate the social problem they seek to address, and have a program in place to do so. That’s the easy part. More challenging is building the organizational infrastructure – the capacity – to be effective. Capacity building might mean management training, or expanding the base of repeat donors, or building a website.

Some things get translated when going from the for-profit to the non-profit world. Management consulting lingo is one of them. So here’s a tip: when seeking unpaid work as a management consultant, use the terms “capacity building” or “building capacity.”

Two Paths to Getting Involved in Non-profit Management

High-level volunteers might be turned off at the notion of volunteering in the proverbial mailroom and just stuffing envelopes. You might reasonably feel you’ve got better things to do than “work up” to management level challenges as a volunteer. Instead, think about these two points of entry:

  • Board Participation: Many experienced people, who are interested in helping non-profits deal with management-level issues find that the best way to do so is by joining the board. For more about boards of non-profit organizations, see The Skinny on the “Give-Get” of the Non-Profit Board…and NYC’s “Linkages” Program Matches Prospective Board Members (xref to BOOMSTER INTERNAL LINKS)
  • Project-Based Work: The second way to get involved is to identify a project-based opportunity. In other words, find out what the non-profit is working on, whether that’s raising awareness of pollution in the local lake, or finding people to help inner-city youth with afterschool homework. Consider how your skills might be of use, whether they are in accounting, marketing, communications, fundraising, events-planning, or writing grant proposals. Be specific in what you are offering to do. And, try to talk to the top people at the organization.

It’s important to be clear – both to oneself and to the non-profit organization – about whether one is looking for a short or medium term partnership. It doesn’t help anyone if a high-level volunteer becomes deeply involved in some project, but isn’t committed to seeing it through. The same is true of board participation.

Finding an Unpaid, Volunteer Job in Non-profit Management

Aside from word of mouth, how can you seek out volunteer opportunities at the management level? Check out the following organizations.

  • VolunteerMatch:
    This is your best bet. VolunteerMatch has a network almost 70,000 non-profit organizations offering specific job postings. You can tailor your search by inputting variables including type of service and location. Their growing network includes many small and medium sized 5013 non-profit organizations, but also some giants: American Red Cross, National MS Society, Peace Corps, National CASA, Easter Seals, Girl Scouts of the USA, Senior Corps, Habitat for Humanity, Ronald McDonald House Charities. VolunteerMatch has recently embraced two initiatives of relevance to the more experienced sector. One is focused on what they describe as “supporting efforts to build a volunteer culture that encourages and includes the contributions of experts” and the other is called, “Boomer Civic Engagement.”
  • Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE):
    SCORE offers pro bono assistance to all kinds of organizations, including nonprofits.
  • RESERVE:
    ReServe “connects experienced retired professionals with compensated service opportunities that challenge them to use their lifetime skills for the public good.”
  • Taproot Foundation:
    Taproot seeks to organize volunteers into management teams of people with expertise in fields such as project management, marketing, creative services, human resources, information technology, strategy management. In theory, volunteers donate 3-5 hours per week on a 6-month pro bono project; most work is done virtually. It sounds like a great model, but as of this writing, there are few opportunities currently listed online. Stay tuned.

For the individual, finding a volunteer opportunity that fits the bill can feel as tough as a job in a recession. Still, there are over 1.2 million non-profits, and only one of you. Large or small, every non-profit organization needs management skills – and like every other sector of the economy, the non-profit world is also reeling from rapid technology change and the impact of the recession. So, if you’re a boomster seeking to put your years of experience to work to make the world a better place through non-profit management consulting, there’s plenty of opportunity to do so.