Nonprofits Must Position Themselves for Pro Bono

  • Written by Teresa Coles

I had the opportunity to attend a thought-provoking session in DC on Thursday hosted by Taproot Foundation, one of the nation’s strongest voices for pro bono service. It came on the heels of the launch event for a Billion + Change, a national movement to mobilize a billion dollars (now 2 billion) in pro bono services from American corporations by 2013. I sat on a panel alongside leaders from global corporations such as IBM, Dow Corning and HP who talked about their corporations’ pro bono and skills-based volunteering efforts. I was there to talk about CreateAthon® as an example of what a small company can do to build scale around its pro bono efforts.

In the Taproot session that followed, there was much discussion around the fact that companies are sometimes reticent to develop pro bono programs for nonprofits because the nonprofits are not ready.That is to say, nonprofits may not have seriously considered or strategically planned for receiving pro bono counsel from professional organizations.

Taproot’s founder and champion of all things pro bono, Aaron Hurst.

Why on earth would a nonprofit not be ready to accept pro bono services? Consider these stark but unfortunate truths:

The nonprofit has not developed a strategic plan of any kind. Professional service organizations will be wary of committing their employees’ valuable time to work for a nonprofit that has no idea of where it’s really heading or how it can possibly get there.

The nonprofit is not ready to execute the recommendations provided to them. Companies that provide pro bono consulting services to nonprofits offer highly sought-after, professional solutions, and nothing is more frustrating than to see smart planning sitting on a shelf. A nonprofit must have adequate resources —time, money, manpower — to carry out the counsel delivered to them.

The nonprofit is scared of letting “outside” consultants critique their work. Let’s face it: some people just don’t want to hear they have been doing it wrong or could do it better. Could it make them look bad in front of their boards? Heaven forbid.

The pro bono tide is rising, as evidenced by the commitment of A Billion + Change movement. Nonprofits will be wise to consider how they can strategically position their organization to be a worthwhile investment of time for companies that are actively seeking pro bono opportunities in their community and throughout the country. Don’t let tactical shortsightedness get in the way of what can be transformative progress for your organization.