Pro Bono: The Good & The Bad

Increasingly, nonprofits find themselves in a situation where they need to develop programs and scale quickly—and to do so with the limited resources on hand. No one wants to get caught without a strategic plan in this scenario.

The reality is that only about half of the small to midsized nonprofits ($500,000 to $20 Million in revenues) in the U.S. have a strategic plan, according to an article penned by James W. Shepard, Jr. He writes that the majority of those that do often make critical decisions without access to important data and analysis.

So what can you do if your organization simply cannot afford a staffer (or more), especially in the face of an overwhelming need? Many organizations turn to nonprofit staffing agencies for temp solutions. This provides immediate help without hiring permanent, full-time staff. Kristi Lewis, Temp Services Manager for PNP Staffing Group, says the average size of nonprofit organizations using temps has 10-15 staff members. Organizations with over 100 employees also turn to PNP as they adjust to workload fluctuations, critical situations and seasonal needs. PNP also offers project-based assistance.

The Taproot Foundation connects nonprofits and social change organizations with skilled volunteers who share their expertise pro bono. This invaluable organization has delivered almost $153 million in pro bono services to date.

Pro bono assistance can come from community resources as well. But be prepared—not all pro bono services are equal.

Pro Bono: The Good

According to a recent study conducted by the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP), half of all surveyed companies now offer pro bono service as an element of their volunteer programs. This number represents an increase of 34% of all surveyed companies just a few years ago.

According the CECP report Giving in Numbers, “Pro Bono service is a growing trend in corporate America. More companies are merging it into their volunteer programs as another way to engage employees while investing in their communities.”

We are not just talking about strategic planning and program delivery. Pro Bono services from businesses can be leveraged to help your nonprofit organization throughout the year—crisis or not, and in a number of areas, including:

  • Strategic and Business Planning
  • Human Resources and Organizational Development
  • Marketing and Communications
  • Finance and Accounting
  • Information Technology
  • Logistics
  • Product Development
  • Fundraising and Development
  • Event Planning and Execution
  • Crisis Management

With the growing demand from consumers that corporations “Give back” and a job market consisting of younger workers who want to see their organizations be involved in a greater purpose, interest from corporations to participate is expected to continue growing.

Some of the reasons that nonprofit organizations find Pro Bono services beneficial:

  • Benefits the bottom line
  • Attracts investors
  • Improves market share
  • Builds brand
  • Expands ROI on Corporate Philanthropy
  • Boosts morale and pride
  • Increases loyalty
  • Provides immediate support in crisis

The Summit on Corporate Volunteerism: Toward a New Definition of Pro Bono is a great read to understand more about Pro Bono services and benefits.

Pro Bono: The Bad

The trends sound terrific, right? After all, who wouldn’t accept free help?

For optimal long-term (and short-term) gains, your organization needs to be prepared to consistently manage the services provided. While pro bono personnel may have the expertise you need, the individual has not been initiated into your organization’s culture. Just as with any staff, good management, strong communication, and a commitment to clear goals and objectives is required.

Eileen Cunniffe of NonProfit Quarterly writes, “A thoughtful assessment of organizational need and capacity to absorb what is being offered is critical. Otherwise, both the nonprofit and the well-intentioned volunteer(s) are likely to have a disappointing experience.”

An excellent resource to help understand the wins and fails of Pro Bono service is the book, Powered by Pro Bono: The Nonprofit Step-by-Step Guide to Scoping, Securing, Managing, and Scaling Pro Bono Resources, available on Amazon—along with some very helpful reviews. The book provides worksheets, examples, and templates to get you prepared for a successful pro bono engagement.

Amy DeVita is a publisher, entrepreneur, mother, wife, social media enthusiast and fan and avid supporter of the nonprofit/ for-impact sector. She has written for Top Nonprofits and Third Sector Today; she has been quoted on pieces about social media and social impact on The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast. She was named to the Leading Women Entrepreneurs in NJ Monthly and she is a member of Social Media for Nonprofits’ Leadership Council. In her spare time she enjoys kayaking, yoga, hiking, traveling, and playing Scrabble. Amy lives in New Jersey with her husband, two children, and two dogs. In 1984 she earned the “Most Improved Average” honor on her bowling league

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