Top Places to Work

How to use your professional expertise to help charities

Instead of swinging hammers, volunteers are sharing their work skills to help nonprofits with everything from websites to spreadsheets.

Scotty Reifsnyder

The Waltham advertising agency Boathouse Group may be best known for glossy websites and commercials that make financial giants such as Bank of America look good.

But since 2009, the company’s employees have also put their website design and storytelling skills to use for philanthropic work, helping raise money for families, most of them local, struggling to pay the rent, medical bills, and utilities.

Boathouse launched its own crowdfunding website,, to quickly connect donors with needy families. Employees volunteer to write short paragraphs describing a family’s need and use their social media skills to spread the word about how the public can donate.


“It’s a very organic process,” says Vetto Casado, Small Can Be Big’s executive director, adding that the organization has raised more than $700,000 and helped about 630 families.

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Companies are increasingly interested in volunteering and helping nonprofits by using their expertise, says Diana Brennan, the chief executive officer of Boston-based Building Impact, which matches people with philanthropic opportunities where they live and work.

Lawyers have long done it through pro bono work, and now financial firms are helping nonprofits draw up business plans, Brennan says, and marketing companies are drumming up publicity for charities. Younger workers are also driving the move toward doing good by doing what they’re good at, according to Brennan, instead of volunteering to build playgrounds and paint homes.

“We’re much more open to giving of our skills, even if it’s helping with Excel spreadsheets, because we know the impact,” Brennan says.

Most nonprofits are so focused on meeting the immediate needs of the people they are helping while reaching out to donors that they don’t always invest in staff that can help them with technology or marketing, she says.


Family Reach Foundation, a New Jersey-based nonprofit that supports families with children who have cancer, has been using Small Can Be Big to raise money for parents who need help paying household expenses or travel bills for treatment. Family Reach teams with social workers to vet the needy families, and Small Can Be Big brings expertise to the fund-raising effort, says Christina McCarthy, a senior program manager for Family Reach.

“We see things in very black and white,’’ McCarthy says. “Do they qualify for help? Can we meet their needs? Small Can Be Big does a great job in bringing life to the story.”

Deirdre Fernandes is a Boston Globe staff writer. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.