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9 Reasons to Become Powered by Pro Bono Services

July 08, 2014

Headshot_aaron_hurstWhat would your nonprofit do with an additional 20 percent in its budget? What if you could achieve that by securing professional support from marketing, information technology, human resources, finance, and strategy professionals? Still not convinced pro bono service is the rocket fuel you need to achieve your mission? While there are many ways in which pro bono can positively impact your organization, here are nine reasons guaranteed to change your mind.

1. You need a strong voice. In an increasingly noisy world, it's imperative nonprofits make themselves heard. Pro bono resources can help your organization create key messages and visual identities, brand strategies, attractive and user-friendly websites, compelling print collateral, and more -- all of which are critical if it hopes to develop a clear and powerful voice that engages a broad range of stakeholders and reaches across organizations to create impact.

2. The best nonprofits are doing it. Some will tell you pro bono is only for failing nonprofits that can't afford to pay for services. Gerald Chertavian, founder of Year Up, would say that such people "suffer from a severe lack of imagination." Year Up, as it happens, is one of the most successful nonprofits in the U.S. They've worked with more than six thousand young people nationwide and have sites in eleven cities. They produce very successful outcomes (84 percent of program graduates are in school or working full-time within four months of graduation). They operate with a staff of more than three hundred people and an annual budget of over $40 million and have twice been voted one of the top fifteen nonprofits in the U.S. to work for. And they've been pro bono believers since the beginning. Pro bono support from Alta Communications helped kick off the initial Year Up venture, and over the years Gerald has successfully locked in pro bono support from countless sources, including New Profit Inc. and Monitor Deloitte, whose advice with respect to strategic planning helped shape the organization into the powerhouse it is today.

3. It helps foster talent and leadership. The nonprofit sector is the people sector. Nonprofits succeed when they have great people and great leadership. And that requires investment. You need systems, training, and infrastructure to get board members, employees, and volunteers into the right roles. Pro bono projects can help nonprofits build the necessary structures for talent retention and development, as well as for setting appropriate goals and performance management processes that lead to strategically aligned growth and staff development.

4. It generates significant corporate support. Many companies are much more likely to become large donors if they have employees deeply engaged in your mission. Companies like Deloitte hugely favor their pro bono partners over other grantees when it comes to providing significant financial support.

5. It's a good source of qualified board members. It's not uncommon for executives who work as pro bono consultants to fall in love with the organizations they consult with and want to make a longer-term commitment to those organizations. When such an individual joins your board, he or she comes to the table already deeply engaged and knowledgeable about your nonprofit. Indeed, they often are willing (and more than able) to take on the most critical board leadership roles.

6. It can dramatically reduce the cost of measurement and management. High-performing organizations have an ability and the capacity to track their programs and outcomes and adapt based on data-driven learning. The systems necessary to do that well are expensive to build, but pro bono resources can mitigate the costs of such systems and make them more affordable, even for small nonprofits.

7. Everyone's doing it. Donated pro bono resources in the most recent year of record were roughly 4x all corporate cash giving combined, and -- best of all -- came in many shapes and forms. AIGA, the professional association for design, calls on all designers to donate 5 percent of their time pro bono; that's 286,000 hours per year. Marketing and PR professionals donate 623,000 hours per year. Need a strategic plan? Management analysts donate 746,000 per year. Software engineers and programmers, database administrators, and HR professionals donate close to 1 million hours per year each. What does your organization need?

8. Organizations are becoming more complex. As the nonprofit sector continues to grow and mature, nonprofits themselves are becoming more complex in response to the diverse needs of their communities. Nonprofit leaders are always striving to do more, but resources are limited. How can they meet their potential? Pro bono services can provide top-tier expertise that strengthens an organization's structure while supporting and helping to develop the talent it already has on staff. High-priced consultants aren't the only way to get excellent people in the door to augment the skills of your nonprofit team. Indeed, there are many professionals out there who love what they do, do it extremely well, and actively want to use their skills to give back. That's what pro bono is all about.

9. It almost always results in professional growth. Working with professionals from a different sector who don't live inside your organizational bubble will help you question your assumptions and redefine what is possible for you and your organization. There's a learning opportunity on both sides of the pro bono engagement, and the relationships formed through such engagements typically serve to deepen partnerships across sector lines.

Just think of all the things your nonprofit organization could achieve if 20 percent of its budget was covered through pro bono services. It's a no-brainer. You and your colleagues need to establish a goal of securing that amount in pro bono services, ensuring that many if not all your organizational needs are being met with the help and expertise of industry-specific professionals. Powered by pro bono: It's the only way to go.

Aaron Hurst, founder of the Taproot Foundation, is a globally recognized entrepreneur who works to create communities that are empowered to realize their potential. He currently is the CEO of Imperative, a technology platform that enables people to discover, connect and act on what gives them purpose in their work.

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Yes, but HOW do you get these pro bono services?

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