How to Implement Pro Bono Services Into Your Tech Startup

Guest Author February 9, 2017

As a former senior manager of community engagement for a Fortune 500 company and the current leader of a nonprofit, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in all aspects of corporate philanthropy programs from the perspective of both organization types.

From my vantage points, all of the pieces appear to be in place to leverage the financial and human resources of for-profit organizations to advance the impact of community-based organizations. More and more companies offer structured corporate philanthropy programs, and I can personally attest to the fact that many nonprofits struggle to access the skills and resources traditional for-profits enjoy as part of standard business operations.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a disconnect. Many companies face the challenges of driving participation in a well-defined and generous employee engagement program, while so many nonprofits struggle to access many of the skills and resources needed to elevate the effectiveness of their programs and operations.

It’s inarguable that employees want to volunteer; why then do participation rates remain relatively low? One reason might be the types of volunteer opportunities available to businesses. Although many employees enjoy hands-on opportunities, a large percentage are looking for opportunities to apply their specific expertise and skills to a cause for which they are passionate. In the nonprofit world we call this pro bono services, and our main goal is to engage businesses on this level. Below are specific areas where nonprofits need immediate help and specific ways that tech businesses can contribute in alignment with their business goals and employee skills.

Areas Where Nonprofits Need Help

Pro bono services that nonprofits desperately need from businesses start with a baseline around data. Most nonprofits’ data is segregated and disorganized, leaving massive gaps and missed opportunity for return and new donors. This disconnect also stalls nonprofits in launching new initiatives, programs, and outreach. Where businesses can help is show nonprofits how to use the data — whether it be it be for fundraising, program evaluation, or communication programs.

In recent years, more and more nonprofits have realized the operational benefits of back-office software and have established a baseline digital presence. The struggle still lies in taking efforts to the next level and harnessing the power of technology to transform their program tracking and evaluation, donor relations, and community building:

  • Technologies are not integrated and data continues to live in siloes;
  • Nonprofits are hyper-focused on configuring systems and collecting data, while far too little time is spent on what data to capture and how to put the data to work;
  • Nonprofit employees often lack the domain expertise and skills to create strategic plans or implement more advanced technologies or integrated communications programs.

Some of the more typical projects where businesses can lend their expertise in the form of pro bono services include:

  • Website design and development;
  • Mobile app definition and development;
  • CRM system implementation;
  • Donor/constituent journey mapping.

Simple, Effective Ways Tech Businesses Can Help Nonprofits

Adopting a local nonprofit as a pro bono client can be done in a plethora of ways. What’s been found to be most effective for both parties is aligning the goals of the nonprofit to that of the skills of the business sponsor’s employees. From an execution standpoint, there are number of different models to can adopt:

  • Allocate a fixed number of hours for an employee to work on nonprofit projects as part of the standard workday;
  • Host a 24-hour design-a-thon or hack-a-thon to tackle smaller — but incredibly impactful — projects such as designing and developing a marketing email or landing page, or configuring a basic CRM system;
  • Adopt a nonprofit client as a client for your internal teams to manage;
  • Integrate minimum levels of pro bono activity into your employees personal growth plans.

Lifetime Value to Nonprofits

The most visible benefit to nonprofits in the pro bono equation is the implementation of a new technology, strategy, or methodology that improves operational efficiency or deepens constituent relations. Although this alone is impressive, a dollar value can also be associated to the services received.

According to Points of Light, 40 hours of hands-on volunteering generates an approximate $942.40 of value to the nonprofit. Shift the time investment to eight hours of pro bono services, the impact jumps to $1,200.

Ongoing Value to Companies

Companies that make the commitment to thoughtfully commit both financial and human resources to the better of causes their employees care about will benefit across all levels of the organization. According to research shared by A Billion+ Change,

  • 91% of Fortune 500 human resources managers said volunteering knowledge and expertise to a nonprofit can be an effective way to cultivate business and leadership skills
  • 56% of companies report skills gains by participating employees
  • 59% of skills-based volunteers have higher employee morale than non-volunteers and 13% higher employee morale than “extra-hands” volunteers
  • 61% of companies notice an increase in brand value
  • 63% of companies believe pro bono has contributed to stronger team development

Next Steps

If you are ready to launch a pro bono services program or take your existing one to the next level, there are entire organizations that exist solely to assist in the definition, development, implementation, and evaluation process. Some of the most resourceful sites include Taproot Foundation, A Billion+ Change, and Common Impact. The most important thing to remember is that no amount of effort is too small. Nonprofits are thirsty for access to the very talent businesses surround themselves with everyday, and employees are eager to make a difference for the causes they are most passionate about. Taking the first step is already a win-win for everyone.

 

Learn more about the author’s organization Nextech on their website and Twitter.

Featured image: Volunteers | The Tech