Skills-based volunteering in Singapore – making it work

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The core mission of Conjunct is to engage, mobilise and empower pro-bono talent to strengthen social good organisations. The work we have done over the last five years has involved identifying, recruiting and matching the right skills-based volunteers with the social good organisations in Singapore. With over 1000 volunteers and over 100 social good partners that have been associated with Conjunct, we understand what it takes to make skills-based volunteering work. In this article penned by Samantha Lee, President, Conjunct Consulting, she walks us through the macro situation of skills-based volunteering in Singapore and what we can do to make sure everyone involved derives the maximum impact.

Skills-based volunteering in Singapore – Making it work

In Singapore, there’s an overwhelming number of people interested in doing pro bono work. On LinkedIn alone, 39,235 people based in Singapore have put their hands up for skills-based volunteering. Given that there are only about 2,000 charities in Singapore, that’s approximately 20 people per charity! While this is certainly a happy problem to have, according to a survey we conducted late last year, non-profits face the most challenges in recruiting volunteers with relevant skills and identifying needs/defining role of volunteers. This indicates to us that while there may be an overwhelming supply of people interested in pro bono, we still have some ways to go in matching them to the right opportunities and helping the social sector learn how to best use them.

Matching demand and supply:

Although a small country with a population of five million, both the supply and demand for skills-based volunteers are rapidly growing. The development has been driven on both ends of the ecosystem. We have seen an increasing number of people coming to us to volunteer their skills, which has allowed us to grow quite rapidly in an organic way. More recently, this development is also being driven on a national level, where the government is actively pushing the pro bono movement. In my opinion, a lot more work has to be done in convincing companies here of the benefits of investing in a well-structured pro bono program. We certainly have some ways to go in making pro bono a norm for companies! On the non-profit side as well, Conjunct currently plays an active role in scoping the projects, training and matching the volunteers, and managing the project for the non-profit, to a point where we run more like a social sector consulting firm. We have found that this is important in ensuring great outcomes for all, but if I could dream, I’d certainly love to see more non-profits build their capacity to define their needs, recruit volunteers, and manage them more effectively.

Matching skill sets with needs:

Based on a survey done by Conjunct Consulting last year, the top 3 needs of the non-profits in Singapore are marketing and communications, information technology, and fundraising. The top 3 skills professionals are offering are strategy management, leadership and human resources, and marketing and communications. The most challenging projects to match are always the more technical ones, where we either have a group of volunteers with a unique skill-set or we have a technical need, e.g., redesigning a website, that requires skills that not as many volunteers possess.

Tangibles and Intangibles:

Matching pro bono talent to the right opportunities does come with its own set of challenges. At Conjunct, we really emphasize finding the right match on both sides. We interview all volunteers who apply to be members to understand tangible factors like their skills and time commitment as well as the more intangible factors like what they are hoping to get out of the experience and what their motivations are. Similarly for the non-profits we work with, we have a structured needs analysis process which allows us to not only identify the specific need but also understand how the project fits into their long-term goals and/or addresses underlying root causes of issues they may be facing. Fundamentally, we want to ensure that through our matching, we are able to create the most positive impact for both the non-profit and the volunteer, and given the various permutations of different factors, sometimes matching can get quite challenging. Having a large network of non-profits and volunteers has been really important in enabling us to do the matching well.

Uniquely Singapore:

Perhaps a unique thing about the pro bono movement in Singapore is how supportive the government has been in advocating for greater skills-based volunteering. One possible theory is that as a growing nation which recently crossed over into the second half of its first century as an independent country, there has been an increasing push to enable the people to feel a sense of ownership and responsibility towards the community. Skills-based volunteering is a significant part of that story; after all, if people are going to spend approximately 90,000 hours working in a lifetime honing their skills, what better way to contribute to the community than to give some of those skills to charity?

What next:

Looking to the future, we need to bring together all the different players in the local pro bono scene and to have a discussion around what we are already doing well, and what we could be doing better. If we can collectively understand that promoting pro bono is a long-term investment with no shortcuts or quick fixes, and that the only real solution is to continuously grow and mutually support each other through this journey, I think that will be a fantastic win for both my country and the social sector.

 

About the Author:

Samantha is the President of Conjunct Consulting since 2015. She has been involved with Conjunct since its inception in 2011 in various functions. In 2012, she was a Project Leader; in 2013, she helmed the Conjunct Consulting National University of Singapore (NUS) Chapter as Chapter Director. Samantha has social sector experience with various organisations, such as the consulting division of NetImpact at Yale, the DBS Bank Singapore’s Corporate Social Responsibility team, and another nonprofit to run Youth Business Singapore programme. Samantha graduated from the National University of Singapore with a Bachelor of Social Sciences (Honours) in Political Science. Her other interests includes zip-lining across the Copper Canyon in Mexico and doing volunteer work in India, Vietnam and Honduras. You can connect with Samantha at https://www.linkedin.com/in/samantha-lee-35a169b6/

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