How to Donate Your Expertise to Charity

October 2, 2015

VolunteeringIt's a common source of angst: Many of our clients desperately want to donate time to a cause, but they're just too busy to do so. When these clients retire, they finally get that golden, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, taking their hard-earned expertise and repurposing it for a cause.

We're all familiar with the standard nonprofit support model. Research a charity, reach out, donate. What's more complicated, but sometimes more meaningful, is taking the substantial skills you've learned as a business leader, manager or owner, and donating them to organizations that protect the arts, fund disease research or support those less fortunate.

Your Expertise Can Be a Valuable Asset to the Charity of Your Choice

Before you shoot off an email promising your commanding negotiation, organization or PR skills to a nongovernmental organization or nonprofit, follow these four steps and do some soul-searching first: 

  • Think local. Most of us guiltily change the channel when we hear the first strains of Sarah McLachlan on that pervasive ASPCA commercial. According to interviews, even Sarah reaches for the remote! Despite this visceral, gut-wrenching response, donating your expertise to one of the largest animal protection organizations in the United States might not be the optimal use of your skills.

    Instead, take a closer look at local charities. A small nonprofit that serves at-risk youth in your city probably has a greater need for skills-based volunteers than a national organization that takes in millions each year from donors and has the funds to pay healthy salaries.
  • Create a skills inventory. Take a paper and create three columns. In column one, list a skill. In column two, grade that skill like you would in school. Are you an A-level bookkeeper and C-level graphic designer? Add this to your second column. In column three, list out how each skill can help a nonprofit of your choice.

    If you're still undecided on a specific charity, but you know the type of charity you want to work with (addiction, cancer research, child trafficking, etc.), you can still add how a skill can help any charity that works in that realm.
  • Pursue the most enjoyable skills. Think of an average workday. Did you spend hours on conference calls, making meeting presentations or working with clients and vendors? Would you rather be taking images, coding an app or designing marketing collateral? Your time as a skills donor should be enjoyable and satisfying, and never feel like work. So always choose a skill you'd like to use rather than the skill that you may use more often, but enjoy less.
  • Be realistic about availability. Many of our clients face two retirement worlds: the real and the unreal. In the anticipated scenario, days are spent enjoying the finer parts of life, pursuing passion projects with plenty of time for reflection and relaxation. In real life, when they hit their retirement stride, clients are busier than they've ever been, maintaining jam-packed schedules stuffed with both fun and not-so-fun activities.

    Before you make that phone call offering your services to a nonprofit, ask yourself. What's realistic for me, timewise? Can my charity project count on me to hit deadlines every single time, or will real life get in the way? Even if you have only a couple of hours each month to donate, that time can make a huge difference to a local charitable organization.

From and Bridgespan to local charities offering paid and unpaid positions, as always, do your research before you commit to a cause. In the meantime, chronicle the skills that made up your successful career, and explore how these talents can help change the world.