Nonprofits confront enormous barriers to solving social problems. Their mission and mandates require human resources but often lack the financial resources to hire and deploy them. Nonprofits need to write proposals, showcase their work, and initiate and manage projects; however, staff are nearly always overextended. Indeed, today’s nonprofits face:
- A shortage of staff to meet core needs
- A shortage of staff to exploit opportunities
- Staff turnover which is harmful to program goals and organizational mission
- Underutilization of volunteers who can contribute to tasks and capacity
- Competing mission demands which hinder objective decision-making around the allocation and prioritization of human resources.
- Dual demands to meet mission and raise resources to raise resources.
This isn’t news. CEO’s and Executive Directors often think to themselves, “If only I had staff for that, I could…” They long for an answer as ubiquitous as “There’s an app for that.” But even if we framed nonprofits as tech platforms whose people were like “apps” who easily performed functions to overcome issues like those above, they are not Apple. Nonprofits tend to lack innovation, especially around human resources. In fact, nonprofits can cycle through, underpay, and take good staff for granted. And the sector is not known for how it engenders growth, advancement, and self-care. But what if we changed the system to lower costs, further mission, and ensure staff could contribute more powerfully. With SWAP, there is a way.
Nonprofits move through financial cycles of ups and downs; less work and loads of work. While plenty of committed and qualified people want to help, nonprofits lack the resources and oftentimes the ‘known quantity’ to hire or allocate talent proportional to its workload and complexity.
SWAP facilitates the sharing of staff and experienced volunteers between nonprofits. Members of SWAP participate in a network that allows them to ‘recruit’ and ‘share’ staff and volunteers amongst one another. Using a credit system called SWAP Coin, participants “purchase, earn, or expend” credits to apply talent on their most pressing challenge and leverage capacity to pursue opportunities. SWAP is to nonprofits what AirBnB is to lodging and Uber to transportation.
How SWAP Works
If an organization is facing competing priorities, SWAP helps to ‘employ’ vetted staff with the required competencies at no cost. For example, Nonprofit (A) posts an opportunity where they want to recruit staff. The objective will require 40 hours. Nonprofit (B), has eligible/interested staff or a skilled volunteer(s) that can be shared to meet the need. The recruiting nonprofit ‘pays’ 40 SWAP credits and the sharing nonprofit ‘earns’ 40 SWAP credits for future use. Because we assume the demand may exceed the supply:
- Donors can donate credits by making a cash gift that a nonprofit can use, if their balance is low. Purchased credits would equal a pre-determined hourly rate.
- Companies and the public can volunteer credits (through donated hours) which would serve as an in-kind donation
For nonprofits, SWAP offers a model for (1) recruiting nonprofit leadership to post positions needed with the SWAP credits they’d be willing to offer; and (2) sharing nonprofits that have similar positions can “lend” those staff to the recruiting nonprofits for credits. The sharing nonprofit gets credits that they can use later when they confront a different need that they can’t fill internally but which they can find in the SWAP the network, assuming they don’t have it internally. The recruiting nonprofit gets immediate and vetted staff/volunteer capacity without going through an exhaustive period of drafting a position, getting approval, raising dollars, and recruiting which can take 9-18 months.
For employed staff, SWAP offers opportunities to gain deeper experience, learning, and broader exposure that will catalyze creative thinking and rejuvenate ideas back to their home organization. Staff sign up for engagement with other organizations in a SWAP deal.
For volunteers, SWAP offers a chance for meaningful utilization of skills. Indeed, nonprofits can oftentimes under appreciate the value of volunteers by missing their professional and life expertise, even when nonprofits count on their support daily for unskilled tasks. Indeed, realizing this talent could help build capacity. For example, imagine the potential of a marketing professional who volunteers Sundays in a soup kitchen. If this person was engaged in teaching the nonprofit how to launch a marketing campaign for food donations among grocery stores and restaurants, it would make a measurable difference. The Sunday service is great, but the volunteer’s talent could complement a deeper need to grow food donations. In fact, SWAP would incentivize nonprofits to build a volunteer corps capable of contributing to their toughest problems.
Clearly, issues like liability, retention and confidentiality will need thoughtful input. But like the challenges with today’s platforms (did anyone in the 1990s think someone would “share” their home?), we can work through and mitigate these risks. Disinterested, risk averse organizations will only perpetuate the status quo.
SWAP helps nonprofits overcome societal problems by sharing skilled professionals, reducing hiring demands and expenses, builds collaboration among nonprofits, and grows efficiency and intellectual capital across the sector. Staff build skills, broaden experience and improve morale. Volunteers broaden their experience with complex issues and get meaningful work. Participating nonprofits build capacity, overcome human resource barriers, strengthen their networks to better reach mission. Let’s end today’s pattern of nonprofit executives seeking incremental impact by pitching modest staff increases at budget season. The cost of the status quo is greater than something new. SWAP will serve countless objectives and transform the social sector.