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Karen Eber Davis

About Karen

Mastering the Art of Getting Expert Help

Has anything like this ever happened to you?

  • Smack at your busiest time of year, a key leader resigns.
  • Your board endorses and funds a new program. You’re delighted, but short-staffed and concerned. You lack the time and expertise to complete the program’s new tasks.

I'll share two examples that, on the surface, seem worlds apart. Underneath, they both involve maximizing the value of your human capital in-kind donations. The strategy saves time, money, and provides superior results. The first example represents a short-term approach, the second, long term.

Short-term Excellence

When its executive director resigns because of family health issues, an education foundation conducts a national search for a successor. Instead of conducting the search in house, it is conducted on a volunteer basis by the personnel department of a board member’s firm. This strategy succeeds because personnel departments do this kind of work regularly, while the foundation does so infrequently. The contribution saved time, reduced risk, and enabled the foundation to tap into the expertise it needed. Another benefit: the foundation’s leaders interacted with the personnel department, establishing new relationships.

Long-term Excellence

The second example comes from an award-winning down-payment assistance program. This effort helped renters become homeowners by providing down-payment assistance in the form of a small loan. In this case, a big challenge with running the program was the need to gather and collect information on applicants. Instead of the program’s staff gathering critical mortgage information, the program used the materials collected by the loan companies for the existing mortgage. This strategy succeeded because of the companies’ expertise in data collection and their need to gather the majority of the information for their work. Since the program allowed the mortgage companies to do more business, they were interested in helping. The down-payment assistance program recruited, qualified, and trained twenty companies to participate. It saved the program weeks of duplicative work.

What Is The Strategy? How Might You Use It?

This strategy proactively uses volunteer experts to provide high-skill, in-kind expertise to solve important operational needs. The first example works with one firm to solve a need; the second, over a dozen. Both examples benefit the volunteers. The first example honors a board member’s gift, the second the businesses’ bottom-line.

To adapt this strategy in your nonprofit, be intentional and creative about identifying expertise you need. Technology tools such as Skype have created new possibilities for communicating with experts. The examples identified help in processing applications and hiring. They are just two ways to apply the strategy. Consider other areas of your operations. Could you use this strategy to solve an IT need? How about personnel issues, like training that covers the new health care guidelines? How about purchasing help? If you occasionally purchase vehicles, might expertise from a vehicle-orientated business get you a better price and streamline the process? What skills might help you improve a task or tasks? What expertise saves time? What external process already in place can, with tweaking, reduce your work either one time or an ongoing basis?

In your planning, consider how this gift of expertise helps the donors. Can they use it to increase their business or enhance their brand? Will it reduce stress for an existing expert just to complete a task right, rather than teach you how? Also, as you explore the strategy, consider how you will handle the risks involved. What measures can you install upfront to ensure that your nonprofit’s needs are met?

High-value experts value their time. Both examples involve volunteers providing services efficiently where they work. Another way to use this strategy is to just focus on this aspect of it. Can your nonprofit offer new volunteer opportunities offsite? Can you identify tasks volunteers can do at work? By eliminating the need to be in traffic, can you attract new help?

You can obtain superior external expertise to help your nonprofit. The examples model two opportunities. Success with this strategy reaches beyond passive wish lists. Obtaining these results stems from intentional efforts. How can you be more intentional about obtaining in-kind expertise?

Today’s column explored how nonprofits receive high-value donated services that saved time and improved quality. It points out new ways to partner with others to make your nonprofit profitable. Next month in Your Profitable Nonprofit, we will explore how celebrations can help your nonprofit build community.


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