Pro bono volunteering (definition: Pro bono volunteerism is the donation of professional services that utilize the professional and technical skills of the volunteer and for which the recipient nonprofit would otherwise have to pay) is a subset of the larger Skills-Based Volunteering, and one of the fastest growing employee engagement programs according to CECP. More companies are offering their employees’ expertise to nonprofits for capacity-building projects than ever before.
The trouble is, nonprofits can’t always accept this “free” help. While they don’t have to pay for the volunteers’ time, they do have to deal with a number of challenges that can make pro bono costly in other ways.
LBG Associates, a corporate citizenship consultancy, recently released new research on pro bono from the nonprofit point of view. The goal of the research was to discover the challenges nonprofits face when taking on a pro bono volunteer and offer solutions to those challenges. The results informed its latest research report, “Balancing Pro Bono Supply and Demand: Challenges and Solutions from the Nonprofit Point of View.”
Is Pro Bono Worth the Time and Trouble?
The most important result from the study was confirmation that, even with its challenges, pro bono is well worth the time and trouble. Satisfaction rates were high, as was the intention to pursue another pro bono project:
- 95% of nonprofits surveyed strongly agreed, agreed or somewhat agreed that their target issue was addressed
- 82% of projects undertaken by the respondents in the past three years were completed and the deliverable implemented
- 90% would engage in another pro bono project in the future
Top Challenges and How Corporations Can Help
The nonprofits were clear: Time and money are the top challenges. With an already overworked staff, it is hard to find the time to work with a volunteer, and with money always tight, it is hard to find the funds to implement the deliverable. The corporation sending the volunteers can help mitigate those problems, though, according to the research. The following suggestions would make pro bono projects go more smoothly:
Offer help on a small, discrete project first. While it is tempting to go all out and want to provide strategic planning help, thinking small at first will reduce the time commitment and help both sides get started as partners in pro bono engagements.
Make sure you and your nonprofit partner are speaking the same language. Nonprofits reported that seemingly small things, like unfamiliar terminology or “corporate speak,” ended up consuming valuable time because of misunderstandings between the partners.
Allow the nonprofit to select their volunteer(s) from a pool of vetted applicants. The survey respondents were clear on their desire to have more choice in who volunteers at the organization. As much as they appreciate the expertise of the corporate volunteers, they would like to interview vetted candidates for interest in the organization’s mission and understanding of the culture to make sure there is a good fit.
Allow the volunteer to work on the project during the workday. Not only does this send a message to the volunteer and the nonprofit that the company supports this work, it also helps keep the project on track. If the volunteer feels free to meet with the nonprofit during the day, for example, it prevents the already over-worked nonprofit staff from having to meet with the volunteer at night or on weekends.
Include an implementation grant with the pro bono project. Depending on the project, it may make sense to include an implementation grant to ensure that the work done on both sides shows a positive return. The volunteers can stay on through the implementation phase, too, to help see their recommendations come to fruition.
Corporations with a pro bono program should sit down with their nonprofit partners to learn about their particular challenges and what will make these projects easier for them. Understanding the needs of each partner and designing a project that makes it as easy as possible for them to accept the help will lead to a long-term, successful pro bono partnership.
The report, “Balancing Pro Bono Supply and Demand: Challenges and Solutions from the Nonprofit Point of View,” is available for download free of charge at http://www.lbg-associates.com/publications/.
About LBG Associates: Linda B. Gornitsky is president of LBG Associates, a noted corporate citizenship consultancy based in Stamford, CT. Linda can be reached at [email protected] or 203-325-3154. http://www.lbg-associates.com