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Brainpower for the Greater Good

By Tom Watson on March 14, 2008No Comment

For corporations, financial support has long been the driving force in their relationships with nonprofits. According to Foundation Center, the majority of total corporate giving in 2006 was in the form of grants and in-kind donations.  But some companies are seeking additional ways of impacting nonprofit capacity.   

Many corporations have long been providing their intellectual and technical services free of charge as a means of giving back to the community.  Indeed, the McGraw-Hill Companies established the Writers to the Rescue program several years ago to leverage the writing and communication skills of its employees.  The program uses volunteer writers, editors, and communication and public relations specialists from the company to help nonprofits create promotional materials and annual reports, develop website content, and edit grant applications.  In 2006, the company received the annual Pro-Bono Award from the TapRoot Foundation for this program, which enjoys the participation of approximately 100 employees.

Similarly, Cisco, a networking technology company, has developed the Leadership Fellows Program, through which senior managers, directors, and vice presidents take on strategic projects critical to a nonprofit’s sustainability and long-term success. Leadership Fellows leverage their competencies and experience to create technological solutions to help improve the productivity of the particular nonprofit.
Some companies, such as Deloitte LLP, Inc., a conglomerate of independent firms that offer audit, consulting, financial advisory, and risk management services, are taking the traditional pro bono model a step further by integrating these services into all aspects of their business. As part of a new $50 million commitment, Deloitte’s pro bono work will be built into their annual planning and budgeting, with a formal structure and funding stream that will allow employees to work on pro bono projects using billable hours.

The goal of this initiative is to transform the way Deloitte supports charitable organizations and strengthens the nonprofit sector by focusing on the business and operational issues that challenge nonprofits’ capacities to deal with social problems. By putting their corporate core competencies to work for nonprofits, Deloitte can help nonprofits establish sound strategic, operational and financial performance, better enabling them to achieve their missions and ultimately make an even greater social impact.

According to Evan Hochberg, National Director of Community Involvement, Deloitte Services, LLP, nonprofits are quite business-like in that they encounter many of the same operational and management challenges as their for-profit counterparts. He explains that at Deloitte, “each project is determined by specific needs and defined by tangible goals and objectives just like any business project would be.”  To complement this initiative, Deloitte has created The Problem Solvers Fund to provide large-scale grants to support community initiatives where their employees are engaged in pro bono efforts.  

So what does the provision of pro bono services mean for nonprofits, companies, and the employees who are providing their skills and expertise?

According to the results of a 2006 Deloitte/Points of Light Volunteer IMPACT Study designed to explore the value of corporate volunteer workplace skills to nonprofits, 77 percent of nonprofit leaders believe that skilled volunteers could significantly improve their organizations’ business practices. The ability to provide services with full company support to their pro bono efforts means that nonprofits are benefiting from world-class counsel and services that have the potential to significantly improve their functioning and their delivery of services. 

According to Mr. Hochberg of Deloitte, “The business case is only powerful when you have made an authentic, impactful social difference.” When this impact is achieved, companies benefit from a positive association with their brand or company name, increased credibility with current and potential customers, improved recruitment, increased employee engagement and retention, and perhaps most importantly, healthy communities where healthy companies can thrive.

By integrating pro bono services into all aspects of business, employees benefit from having the full weight of company resources, capabilities, and support, and by receiving the same value and credit for their work with nonprofits as any other project.
An additional benefit for employees who use their workplace skills at nonprofits is the opportunity to demonstrate and improve their abilities in a different context, which can spark creative problem solving that can be directly applied in the workplace.

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