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Volunteer FAQs

Who are the Collaborative's clients?

The Collaborative works with nonprofit organizations throughout the greater Philadelphia area that need preliminary design services.

What preliminary design services does the Collaborative provide?

The Collaborative’s Design Grants offer a package of design services tailored to the specific needs of each nonprofit. On average our grants provide $15,000-$35,000 in pro bono preliminary design services. Services can include conceptual design, feasibility studies, programming/space planning, site analyses and planning, renderings, facade improvement consultations, opinions of probable cost, existing conditions documentation, existing building systems assessments, preliminary code review, historic assessments, sustainability strategies, and assistance with requests for proposals.

What are the benefits of volunteering?

As a volunteer, you can earn IDP and continuing education credits, tackle design and technical issues outside your current professional practice, meet people and organizations engaged in community design and development, and use your skills to serve communities and improve the built environment. You will also receive documentation of your in-kind contributions and public recognition for your volunteer service.


Design Grant Volunteer FAQs:


Who can volunteer on a Design Grant team? 

Individuals or firms can volunteer with the Community Design Collaborative. Our volunteers are design professionals and include but are not limited to:

  • Registered architects, architectural designers, and intern architects
  • Registered landscape architects and landscape architectural designers
  • Civil, structural, mechanical and plumbing, and electrical engineers
  • Cost estimators
  • Preservationists
  • Interior designers
  • Urban designers
  • City planners
  • Lighting designers
  • Graphic designers

To be eligible to volunteer, you must be:

  • Located in the greater Philadelphia area, which includes Philadelphia, Bucks, Camden, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties.
  • A professional, and in most cases in a design or design related field. There are occasional opportunities for professionals from other fields of expertise to join a team and for post-secondary design students to shadow a team.
  • Available to donate at least 20 hours in pro bono design services over a six-month period.
  • Able to attend four daytime meetings (kick-off, mid-review, final review, and wrap-up) at the Philadelphia Center for Architecture over a six-month period, in addition to other meetings including team and client meetings.

How many volunteers work on a Design Grant team?

Each Design Grant team is typically composed of two to six volunteers. The team may include volunteers from a range of disciplines and levels of experience. Most teams are assigned a Lead Volunteer, who acts as the primary contact with the nonprofit client and the Collaborative. The Lead Volunteer is the primary contact for the client and is responsible for the coordination of the project and management of the project team. In most cases, the Lead Volunteer will have five or more years of professional experience.

How long do Design Grant projects last and how much time is a volunteer expected to donate?

Our Design Grants typically last three to six months, during which a volunteer typically donates twenty to sixty hours of professional services. The Collaborative also occasionally organizes one-day volunteer opportunities like design charrettes. 

How do I become a volunteer and join a Design Grant team?

Complete our online volunteer application. Once you sign up, you'll begin receiving notices about upcoming volunteer opportunities and Design Grant review meeting announcements. Please note that there is a one time volunteer application fee. Interest is high for Design Grant teams, so notify us immediately when you see project you or your firm would like to volunteer for.

How do I get selected for a project?

Volunteers are typically selected on a first-come, first-served basis and with consideration for matching skills and specific disciplines with project requirements. Before being selected we strongly recommend that you attend a Design Grant review meeting as a volunteer peer reviewer for current projects. You’ll receive email notices for these meetings once you sign up as a volunteer. 

What's the process for working on and completing a project?

There are several milestones in the design process. Design Grants begin with a kick-off meeting to orient the volunteer team to both the specific project and the Collaborative process. Your team will be expected to arrange 1 to 3 on-site meetings with the nonprofit during the course of the project, which will include an initial meeting and site visit and may include meetings with a community task force. Your team will also make mid-review and final draft presentations at Design Grant review meetings, where you'll receive feedback and advice from our review committee and other volunteer peer professionals. Finally, your team will participate in a wrap-up meeting with the nonprofit and Collaborative staff to present the preliminary design and findings, answer questions, and discuss next steps. 

What do we produce and how is it used?

Once preliminary design services are completed, the Collaborative compiles the products into a report. Products may include:

  • conceptual design drawings
  • feasibility studies
  • programming/space planning
  • site analyses and planning
  • renderings
  • facade improvement consultations
  • opinions of probable cost
  • existing conditions documentation
  • existing building systems assessments
  • preliminary code review
  • historic assessments
  • sustainability strategies
  • Request for Proposals

Our products are organized into a report to be used by the nonprofit to gain community and financial support. The report enables nonprofits to present a comprehensive package of preliminary design work to potential funders, consultants, and constituent supporters. 

How does the Collaborative select nonprofit clients?

The application process for nonprofits includes a written application, an interview, and a site visit. A nonprofit organization must also provide the Collaborative with articles of incorporation, a certificate of nonprofit status, a list of board members, and a recent financial statement to qualify for pro bono services. The application process enables the Collaborative to determine that a potential Design Grant recipient is a certified nonprofit and is requesting services that are within our scope of provided services. Many of our nonprofit applicants are referred by other nonprofit technical assistance providers and public agencies. Our referral network helps us attract qualified nonprofits.

Once an application is determined to be eligible for a Design Grant, it will be considered for selection by the Design Grant Selection Committee which meets quarterly to review all eligible applications. A range of 25 to 30 Design Grants are awarded each year. 

Why can't the Collaborative's Design Grant recipients pay for design services?

In providing these services pro bono, some firms are concerned that the Collaborative is taking fees away from consultants. The Collaborative provides nonprofit organizations with selected project evaluation and planning services, often referred to as preliminary design services. Funding for preliminary design services is scarce within the nonprofit sector. Our services fill a critical funding gap by giving nonprofits, who do not have the ability to pay, access to preliminary design services. 

In addition, the Collaborative's Design Grant recipients are not yet ready to secure design services. We prepare nonprofits to continue work—with a paid design consultant—by helping them clarify their development goals, gain an understanding of the design process, and compete successfully for grants and loans. Our products provide a foundation for additional work by paid design consultants.

Our products provide the tools nonprofits need to raise funds to be able to hire design consultants to take their vision through design development, construction documentation, and construction administration. 

How does the Collaborative protect volunteers from liability?

We protect our volunteers in the following ways:

  • Our services are limited to specific preliminary design services which are conceptual in nature, therefore limiting liability.
  • We carry professional liability insurance for our volunteers.
  • Ownership and indemnification provisions are included in our letters of agreement and products. 

How does the Collaborative ensure the professional quality of its pro bono preliminary design services?

Collaborative products are equal in quality to those of a paid consultant. We have developed our project management process to produce high quality, credible work and to safeguard the reputation of participating firms and volunteers.

  • The Collaborative selects only nonprofit organizations that can sustain good working relationships, commit time and attention to working with our volunteers, and utilize our products effectively.
  • We draft a letter of agreement that defines a specific scope of services and explains where these services fit within the whole design and development process.
  • The Collaborative staff monitors projects to make sure that work is progressing and volunteers and clients are working together in a productive way.
  • We provide peer review for all Collaborative products. Volunteers must present their work for a mid-review and final draft review. A standing committee that includes a variety of design professionals performs these reviews.
  • Collaborative projects are typically led by volunteers with five or more years of professional experience. Selected projects may also be assigned a project mentor, a senior-level professional who advises the project team.
  • Our volunteers are expected to provide pro bono services equal in quality to the services they provide paying clients.
How can I sign up?

Complete a volunteer application. Once you're signed up, you'll receive quarterly emails about upcoming volunteer opportunities. 


Volunteering as a firm:

The Collaborative offers design firms the opportunity to give back to their local communities. Volunteer firms assemble a project team of staff members to work with a nonprofit through the Collaborative. The Collaborative offers architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, planning, engineering, and construction firms a solid vehicle for civic engagement. 

How does volunteering with the Collaborative benefit my firm?
  • Staff members get the chance to work together to promote positive change and broaden design awareness in our communities. Volunteering through the Collaborative offers you a unique opportunity to apply your knowledge and skills towards social good.
  • Collaborative projects are a great way to provide staff mentoring and professional development.
  • ​You can provide pro bono preliminary design services while reducing your overhead since the Collaborative manages the process, compiles the final report and documents pro bono hours.
  • Your staff can earn IDP and continuing education credits by working on Collaborative projects.
  • You can select projects that give your staff the opportunity to tackle design and technical issues outside your current professional practice. This also enables your firm to build its portfolio.
  • You can develop new contacts or cultivate existing relationships with people, nonprofit organizations and agencies engaged in community development.
  • You can develop new relationships or strengthen existing relationships with consultants in the area.
Who will be on the design team?

When a firm takes on a project, the volunteer team is composed of staff members from the firm. Firms may choose to either bring on their own consultants, or to work with consultants recruited by the Collaborative. 

How can my firm sign up to volunteer?

Select at least one representative at your firm to complete a volunteer application. Once signed up, your representative(s) will receive quarterly emails about upcoming volunteer opportunities and can identify and request opportunities that are a good match for your firm. Interest is high, so your representative should contact us immediately when your firm is interested in an opportunity. If your firm is selected to work on that project, we'll provide instructions for signing up other firm members. Firms are typically selected on a first-come, first served basis, with consideration for matching skills and specific disciplines with project requirements. 

More questions about volunteering?
Contact Tya Winn at



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