This blog was co-written by Robert B. Acton, Executive Director NY, Taproot Foundation; and Florencia Spangaro, Director of Stakeholder Engagement & Strategy, Citi Foundation.
A year and a half ago, the two of us sat together in a diner in Queens, New York – just across the Hudson River from Manhattan – imagining over cups of coffee what a robust and impactful pro bono and skill-based volunteer marketplace in our region would look like.
Imagining the future of pro bono
What would happen if we brought together – in one place, on one day – New York City’s nonprofit leaders, skilled professionals eager to donate their talents, pro bono intermediary organizations, and the philanthropic and corporate communities? We believed that such a gathering had the potential to jumpstart a pro bono marketplace worthy of our great city. Out of these conversations, Pro Bono Day NYC: Connecting Passion to Purpose was born.
This year’s event was held on Thursday, October 23, 2014 during Pro Bono Week, an international week of pro bono awareness-raising and celebration established by the American Bar Association in 2009. Throughout the day, 500 participants attended eight learning and networking events taking place at six venues around the city. In fact, within days of becoming available, all tickets were claimed by professionals eager to be a part of this special day.
We believed this day was needed for one very important reason. You see, the biggest challenge in building a pro bono marketplace is not finding sufficient professionals willing to offer their skills – New York City is full of talent across the full range of business functions. Nor is the biggest challenge finding nonprofit organizations with infrastructure needs – this sector is asked to do the impossible every day, addressing our city’s most critical needs, with very limited resources. The greatest challenge is found in bringing these two groups together: helping great talent connect to nonprofit need on high-impact pro bono consulting projects.
Pro Bono Day NYC
It is this reality that led the Citi Foundation to support – and Taproot Foundation to convene – Pro Bono Day NYC. Partnering with nine pro bono intermediary organizations, the day’s events were designed to lower barriers to entry for nonprofits facing needs in marketing and communications, technology, strategy management, leadership development, human resources, and the like.
Our goal is to ensure that New York City nonprofits have access to skilled business professionals who are motivated and able to solve organizational challenges, at no cost. Several institutions in the city including Google, American Express, the Foundation Center, and the Center for Social Innovation joined us as event hosts.
Our key takeaways
While we learned a great deal from the day, three things in particular stood out:
- There is power in collaboration. The nine pro bono intermediary organizations that participated had partnered in every aspect of the design, build, content, and management of Pro Bono Day NYC. This type of collaboration helps move the pro bono landscape forward by enabling us to speak with one voice and learn from each other’s challenges, best practices, and successes.
- Commitment to corporate skills-based volunteerism is rapidly growing. Throughout the day, corporate social responsibility leaders from a wide range of companies approached intermediary organizations to discuss how to develop a pro bono program for their employees. More than ever, these leaders are realizing that pro bono is good for nonprofit partners, good for corporate talent, good for the common good, and good for the bottom line.
- Technology solutions are critical for scaling pro bono adoption. In the morning kick-off session of Pro Bono Day NYC, we debuted Taproot+, a new online marketplace to serve our nation’s nonprofits. Taproot is focused on breaking through the geographic walls of our five cities, connecting nonprofits in communities across America to business professionals whose skills they need. Both the Citi Foundation and PwC are lead sponsors and supporters of this breakthrough technology that will accelerate the degree to which business professionals can find projects that match their skills. At Taproot+, nonprofits now have a place to articulate organizational needs, field interested professionals, select volunteers for engagement, and access best-in-class knowledge and resources to manage their pro bono project to successful completion – all at no cost.
Through the power of collaboration, meaningful investment from corporate social responsibility leaders, and the breakthroughs afforded by new technology platforms, we are on a path to enabling pro bono to become one of the key resource drivers for how nonprofits “get things done” in pursuit of their organizational mission. Our shared vision of an online pro bono marketplace to serve the nation’s nonprofit sector – free of geographic boundaries – is well within reach.