Over the next few months, Director of Programming Carol Guttery will be contributing a series based on Making Pro Bono Work: 8 Proven Models for Community and Business Impact, a white paper released by Taproot identifying multiple unique ways that organizations can adapt and deliver pro bono service to address a variety of social issues and business goals. She will be spotlighting organizations that successfully exemplify each of the eight models.
The nonprofit sector represents 8 percent of the salaries and wages paid in the United States. That is a significant chunk of our economy dedicated to mission-based work. So in many ways, nonprofits need to operate like businesses and, as such, need business systems to support their operations. These enterprise resources planning (ERP) systems can help them track financials, manage human resources, track key stakeholders, and manage workflow. But affording the purchase and implementation of these systems can sometimes feel beyond the reach.
“Bummer,” you say. “But what do ERP systems have to do with pro bono?”
A sector-wide solution
Enter NetSuite. NetSuite is a leader in cloud-based ERP systems and a company devoted to developing a social benefit line of business that supports the nonprofit sector. They have developed nonprofit versions of key software modules and offer these solutions to nonprofits through a free or reduced fee software donation program. And they supplement the donations with targeted pro bono implementation support. They currently boast 100 nonprofit clients and have aggressive plans to grow both their nonprofit client pool as well as their product offerings.
In Taproot’s 8 Models of Pro Bono white paper, this model of service would be considered Sector-Wide Solution. A sector-wide solution is characterized by pro bono initiatives that are intended to impact the field as a whole. They are typically agnostic of issue area or geography. In this case, the pro bono solution is delivered in the form of original product development of non-profit modules and targeted support during adoption of the tools. It’s a common form of service for software companies (see Salesforce and Cornerstone OnDemand). This is an efficient model for NetSuite and its peers because it leverages their core competencies and business infrastructure in the delivery of social impact. The company definitely benefits through gains in reputation, but the real value is the expertise gained by targeting the social sector as a new market.
Potential of the NetSuite model
This model has a lot of legs: it has the potential for broad sector impact, and companies engaging in it can expand their programs to involve their customers, value-added resellers, and vendors in pro bono support of nonprofits.
You don’t have to be a software company to do this. We challenge you to ask yourself: “What product, service, or program do we have that could be customized and offered to the whole nonprofit sector?” Then activate your innovators to help you execute the idea.
Carol Guttery is the Director of Programs at the Taproot Foundation.