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Support Your Community Through Skill-Based Volunteering

By May 28, 2020December 9th, 2020Community Volunteerism

A group of Compass volunteers and Rebuilding Together Philadelphia staff participating in a design thinking session.

Last fall, I was invited to an information session to learn how my professional skills could help local nonprofit agencies. Compass, a local nonprofit, was seeking volunteers to serve on strategy consulting teams to work with local nonprofits.

As someone who has participated in hands-on volunteering opportunities in the past, including several with the Independence Blue Cross Blue Crew, I was looking to make a greater contribution. I wanted to learn how I could apply my years of business and leadership experience for the benefit of a local nonprofit.

What is Compass?

Compass recruits, trains, and supports teams of business professionals who provide pro bono strategic consulting services to nonprofits looking to raise their level of performance.

The organization was founded shortly after September 11, 2001, when several Harvard Business School alumni in Washington, D.C., recruited friends and colleagues to volunteer on consulting teams for five local nonprofits. Their idea filled a need. Today, Compass partners with over 500 volunteers to serve more than 70 nonprofits each year in three cities.

Compass’ primary focus is a “classic” consulting project that brings together teams of eight business professionals from November to May to work with a client. Each nonprofit client receives around $150,000 of strategic consulting services, free of charge. Clients apply to receive Compass pro bono services. The client list and projects change each year. For 2019 – 2020, Compass of Greater Philadelphia staffed 14 classic consulting projects.

Making the Commitment

I left the crowded information session with my mind made up to apply. In addition to giving back to the local community in a meaningful way and in a way that was different than in the past, Compass was an opportunity for professional growth. I could stretch myself, use skills I don’t get to use often on the job, and network. The time span, November to May, worked well with my other commitments.

As part of the application process we were asked to express our level of interest across the 14 projects. We were given the opportunity to learn more about the current clients before applying, which was helpful given that Philadelphia has over 8,000 nonprofits. Over 250 applied for 100 team member spots. I was thrilled to learn I was selected.

Coming Full Circle

I was placed on a project team benefiting an organization familiar to me, Rebuilding Together Philadelphia. This local nonprofit revitalizes communities by transforming vulnerable houses into safe, healthy, and energy-efficient homes.

I first came to know Rebuilding Together Philadelphia when I volunteered for their Kensington Block Build in October 2017. That day I helped complete needed repairs in a home. I have also been part of an Asthma Trigger Action Crew, in which a small team spends a day mitigating in-home asthma triggers, and other hands-on projects. I would have been honored to have been placed on any of the project teams. Being aligned to an organization with which I was already engaged made it special.

The Compass Experience

Compass provides two in-person training sessions and identifies project leaders for each team. Teams are composed of professionals representing a variety of skills, experience, and industries. Compass provides resources to draw upon in planning and executing the engagement.

The Rebuilding Together Philadelphia project involved strategic marketing to build awareness of the organization’s programs and its history of working with community-based organizations. After deciding on an approach, our team broke into three workstreams. Although our workstream met in person, our entire project group was never in the same room at the same time.

For my part, I co-facilitated a design thinking session, which was my stretch opportunity. I have participated in such a session in the past but have never been the facilitator. I also got to work with individuals I would not have otherwise met and was able to learn from all of them throughout the project. Lastly, I got to know Rebuilding Together Philadelphia better, including members of their staff and the board of directors.

Why Skill-based Volunteering?

There are many ways to support your local community ― cash, in-kind donations, and donating time at an event. Skill-based volunteers use their time, passion, and professional expertise to benefit nonprofits with limited resources. These seasoned volunteer experts can help develop long-term business strategies, all on a pro bono basis.

If you want to use your professional skills in a new way, while making a valuable and sustainable impact to an organization, skill-based volunteering could be a terrific fit.


Ruth Ault-Somogyi

Ruth joined Independence Blue Cross in 2001 and works in Human Resources. She loves to dream big and is passionate about cultivating ideas that consider new approaches and ways of thinking. This usually involves a whiteboard, a rainbow of markers, sticky notes, and lots of data. When not at her day job, Ruth enjoys traveling, scrapbooking, and having a good laugh with her husband and teenage boys.