Small businesses create and sustain jobs while providing training in transferable skills, greater self-sufficiency, and a stronger sense of community to their employees. During the 2020 U.S. Pro Bono Summit Virtual Series webinar Rebuilding our Communities: Small Businesses our panel discussed how companies could best go about offering pro bono to small businesses and described a few program design best practices.
Identifying the Who, the What, and the How of your company’s program is an essential first step—whether you’re designing your first pro bono program or planning to add a small business offering to your existing social impact work. Here’s how we broke them down into specific best practices during our discussion:
Who will your program serve?
Identify the type of small business stakeholder you’re planning to work with. If you have existing connections to small businesses or know of a small business organization through your extended network, that could be a great place to start. This is also an excellent opportunity to focus on reaching more women- and/or minority-owned businesses if that aligns with your company’s goals.
What kind of skills can you provide?
Determine what kind of capacity-building needs your employees are best equipped to address. Small businesses have all kinds of challenges, so consider how employees’ industry-specific expertise may translate to those needs—and be ready to think outside the box.
How can your resources meet their needs?
Build well-rounded teams with diverse skill sets based on your WHO and WHAT—small businesses often have overlapping needs that call on all kinds of expertise and experience. Set clear expectations for employees early in the training and prep process; cultural competency, communication, and empathy are key skills they will have to use to understand small business’s need for capacity building.
Pro (Bono) Tip: Conveniently, pro bono is a great way to encourage the development of leadership skills.
Because small businesses are facing such major, immediate challenges to survival right now, you may want to consider providing additional wraparound resources, like access to capital or increased networking opportunities.
Pro bono for small businesses can lift up the whole community.
Pro bono benefits everyone from the business owners and volunteers who collaborate on projects, to the companies that design and run the service programs. For small business owners, it’s an opportunity to tap into talent that might not be readily available in their own networks. For employees, it’s a chance to leverage their skills and knowledge in a way they don’t typically get to do in their day jobs. And for employers, it’s a way to affirm their values, encourage the growth of their employees, and empower the small businesses that make such a big difference for our communities.