Making Time for Skills-Based Volunteering

We’ve probably all fantasized about what we would do if we had more time. Unfortunately, 24 hours a day is all we get. At the very least we can reduce the amount of time we waste agonizing over the small stuff. Advice from time management gurus often ranges from the more obvious solutions, like turning off email and social media notifications, to the less obvious, such as building a work uniform, and allowing yourself to say “no” more often.

On a deeper level, life coaches encourage us to focus on the Big Stuff in order to be sure we have our priorities in order. One story, told by author and self-help guru Steven Covey in his book, First Things First, establishes a visual metaphor for prioritizing the “Big Rocks” in our lives – family, career, community, etc. Whether or not we then choose to fill the spaces in between is up to us.

So, let’s say you’ve decided to make volunteering a priority. You know why you want to do it: people who volunteer report feeling deeply satisfied by being able to help others achieve their dreams. Not only that, skilled-volunteers get to benefit from wrestling with new challenges, exploring new industries, and even learning about other cultures.

When you think about your own priorities, the Big Rocks in your life, you might have a hard time imagining how you could possibly fit in one more, even one as important as volunteering. If this is your experience, here are three options you might want to consider:

  1. Many corporations are now offering skill-based volunteering (SBV) programs to their employees. Last year, for example, Microsoft launched Tech Talent for Good, an SBV program to connect its employees with non-profits. As an added bonus, for each hour that an employee volunteered, Microsoft donated $25 to that nonprofit. In 2015, Microsoft employees racked up 570,000 volunteer hours.
  • If you find yourself with a chunk of time to spend away from the daily grind, you might want to consider an international volunteering trip. MovingWorlds is one organization that offers meaningful, skill-based volunteer experiences abroad, and ensures you avoid the dreaded “voluntourism” trap
  • Finally, you might consider breaking volunteering down into manageable pebble size. This is particularly easy to do if you volunteer virtually. MicroMentor is a platform that connects established business professionals with entrepreneurs who are looking for mentors with specific skillsets. These startup owners might live in the same city as you, or on the other side of the world.

The MicroMentor platform offers flexibility in terms of when and how you participate, whether it’s answering one-off questions from entrepreneurs on the site, or forming longer-term mentoring relationships with a handful of people. Yet even the long-term mentoring engagements are manageable, since they’re done virtually. The average MicroMentor mentor spends 10 hours volunteering over the course of three months. Most report that they’re easily able to squeeze their mentoring activities into their weekly routine, whether responding to questions by e-mail, or taking a quick call with their mentee on a lunch break.

Whatever path you choose, remember that you don’t have to sacrifice the Big Rocks to incorporate an experience that will make a huge difference in other people’s lives and bring you great joy and satisfaction. You can have both. You just have to find the right volunteer opportunities that will fit comfortably into your life.

andie-longAndie Long is a communications professional with 15 years of institutional storytelling experience on behalf of corporations and non-profit organizations. She is currently freelancing as a writer and PR consultant, as well as working towards a certificate in game design at the University of Washington. Follow her on Twitter @andielong or contact her at

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