Kim: Why did you decide to start Advisory Services?
Lindsay: I have a personal and professional passion for helping strengthen nonprofit organizations and their ability to support our communities. For most of us in the nonprofit sector, it is simultaneously encouraging and frustrating to realize that many organizational obstacles we face are easily preventable or overcome through existing solutions – they are just often inaccessible.
When I first joined the Taproot Foundation in 2004 it was still a relatively small start-up. However, it was already abundantly clear that Taproot had taken a truly innovative, yet wonderfully simple approach to this problem: use the expertise, training, and tools that are often present in abundance in the private sector and connect them in a thoughtful and structured way to the existing, parallel needs in the nonprofit sector.
Taproot’s own flagship program was an excellent proof point of the power of pro bono services when they’re designed well, and word spread quickly. Companies were interested in having their employees participate, but I saw an opportunity for even greater impact. By working directly with companies to design their own programs, we could use the knowledge and best practices we’d honed over the years to build customized, sustainable programs. Ten years later, we’ve helped over 85 companies take advantage of their unique expertise to provide widespread impact for social sector organizations.
Kim: What is one of the most exciting changes you’ve seen in the field of pro bono over the past decade?
Lindsay: When we first started Advisory Services, most of our time went to education. We were often answering the “what” – what is pro bono service, what does it do for nonprofits, what do employees gain, and what are the benefits for a company. Now we spend less time on education and more time on innovation. We’re often answering the “how” – how do we take pro bono to the next level, how do we drive deeper impact for nonprofits, how can it be integrated into employees’ professional development, how can it strengthen our reputation, etc.
Today, I am so proud and heartened to see a field of CSR and now HR professionals at companies who deeply believe in the win-win of pro bono programs to help organizations in their communities while also providing great benefit to their employees. To me, this helps affirm that programs like this will not be treated as a fad. Instead, pro bono has become engrained as a core means of mutual impact across sectors that will only continue to grow and provide more access to these critically needed services.
Kim: Are there any nuggets of wisdom you’ve gained over the years that you wish you could share with all companies?
Lindsay: My advice is always to treat pro bono projects like projects you’re staffing at your own company. The real impact—both for the nonprofit, but also for your own employees—comes from having the right expertise matched to the need at hand and not compromising that in the name of employee development. The opportunity to stretch and grow skills comes from the unique environment in which your employees will need to operate and the different ways they need to use their skills in a new and challenging context.