Pro bono or "skills-based volunteers" have been touted as the new face of volunteerism in recent years. But we have been matching nonprofits with professionals for more than two decades. 501 Commons was founded in 1989 as the Executive Service Corps of Washington. In 2011, we changed our name to 501 Commons to better reflect our role in the community and the broad range of programs we offer. Yet, the Executive Service Corps remains an integral part of 501 Commons.
Our Service Corps program provides opportunities for skilled professionals to volunteer their expertise and experience, and for nonprofits to tap into the skills of professionals in our communities.
501 Commons is a member of Executive Service Corps - United States (ESC-US).
You're In Good Company
come from a wide range of professional backgrounds in government, business, health care, education, and the nonprofit sector. Most have experience in senior leadership roles, and are currently in the workforce. Only about 20% of our more than 500 members are retired.
You will have the opportunity to meet these accomplished and community-minded people when teaming up on projects, at our Learn to Serve advanced training events, 501 Connects networking events, and our annual Volunteer Appreciation and Awards Luncheon.
Forty percent of our members have substantial nonprofit experience before joining the Service Corps. If you do not have any experience with nonprofit organizations, we recommend that you join a board or find a significant volunteer role before applying to join the service corps. These experiences will help you understand nonprofits and make you a more effective consultant.
501 Commons offers several ways for you to use your expertise to support nonprofits across the state:
- As a Consultant: Service corps consultants provide management and other consulting services in areas like planning, board development, HR, and technology planning. Consultants usually work in teams of 2 to 5 people.
- As an Executive Advisor: Executive Advisors have experience in a leadership role in a nonprofit organization. As an executive advisor, you would provide either short-term advice to nonprofit executives on a specific issue, or mentor a leader for several months.
- As a Coach: Our leadership coaches must be independently certified through a training program or have a strong background in human resources and have served as an internal coach for a company. As a coach, you would typically work with managers or senior leaders over a six-month period. Meetings can be held in-person or over the phone.
- As an Internal Volunteer: 501 Commons welcomes volunteers to support general business and fundraising operations, and to help us research and develop new programs and services. You do not need to be a member of the service corps to do internal volunteer work.
Our projects require volunteers to be available for meetings and phone calls during business hours. Some projects, like work with boards of directors, might also require evening or weekend work.
In most consulting projects, you will work with at least one other service corps member. You should plan for time to meet and coordinate with your team member, as well as with the nonprofit client. One team member will be designated as the project lead, and be responsible for communicating regularly with the 501 Commons project manager. The project lead also makes sure that the the project stays focused on the scope of work and gets completed on time.
- Consultants should plan to work 6 - 12 hours per month when you're working on a project. Project length varies greatly, but an average assignment lasts between 4 and 6 months.
- Coaches should plan to commit 15 hours to a single project, generally spaced out in 1.5 hours meetings over a period of 6 months.
- Executive advisors spend either a very short amount of time working on a project, or have long-term mentoring arrangements similar to coaching projects.
- When you are a consultant in one of our cohort programs, like Springboard, Catalyst, HR, Plan IT or VIP, there is a greater need for time flexibility because more people are involved. Time commitment for a cohort program is typically 12 hours per month for 4 - 6 months.
Benefits of Becoming a Volunteer
Our volunteers report that they joined the service corps because they want to give back to their communities. But you will discover that there are other benefits to being a member of the service corps!
- Learning new skills that may be applicable in personal and professional situations
- Access to our online training and resource library
- Free admission to Learn to Serve workshops on nonprofit consulting skills
- Getting to know other service corps members through team projects, and events like 501 Connects, our quarterly networking event
- Being recognized at our annual awards luncheon, where we celebrate the achievements of volunteers who go "above and beyond" in their service to the community
- Access to community news and job offers through our LinkedIn group
As a service corps member, we ask you to take your commitment to 501 Commons as seriously as you would a commitment to a job. All of our volunteers are expected to provide the same level of attention and quality to a volunteer project as they would to a paid work assignment.
Most nonprofits are much smaller than businesses. Of the 11,000 nonprofits in Washington State registered with the IRS, median annual revenue is just $83,000. However, the way nonprofits are funded, the range of programs they offer, and their use of volunteers make their business models very complex. Before drawing conclusions about a project, be sure that you have taken the time to understand as much as you can about the nonprofit with which you are working.
The experience and judgment you bring to a project is critical to your success as a consultant, advisor, or coach. If you are a good listener and communicator, keep your commitments, and show respect for the nonprofit's achievements and culture, you will establish trust, which is fundamental to ensuring a nonprofit uses your expertise.
Apply to the Service Corps
To join the service corps, fill out the online volunteer application. After reviewing your application, our volunteer coordinator will get in touch with you. If your experience is a good match for the service corps, you will be invited to complete a skills assessment and interview with us. If not, we will point you toward other volunteer opportunities that you might be interested in.
During your interview, Service Corps Director Nan McKay will review the skills assessment with you and give you more information about 501 Commons, the service corps, and the types of volunteer opportunities available.