Taproot Foundation celebrated its annual U.S. Pro Bono Summit, exploring how the power of pro bono service can transform nonprofits, schools, and small businesses. The Summit provided innovative tips and facilitated open discussions between corporate pro bono practitioners to share their experiences, best practices, and challenges in developing skills-based volunteering opportunities. Taproot also delivered two webinars for the nonprofit, philanthropic, and corporate sectors, covering critical aspects of capacity-building and board development.
This was the second year of pivoting to a virtual event due to the pandemic. However, shifting to a virtual summit allowed for a multi-day event, more sessions, and accessibility to a larger audience around the world.
These key takeaways touched on multiple aspects of pro bono support, employee engagement, and nonprofit concerns:
Trust, honesty, and flexibility are at the core of meaningful capacity building
In the first session, “Transforming Impact Through Meaningful Capacity Building,” panelists from Taproot Foundation, The Prudential Foundation, Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF) and Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District (LPPCD) shared their experiences designing and collaborating in an innovative program called The Newark Nonprofit Capacity Accelerator.
They discussed how they worked together to confront challenges and norms that can undermine the potential of capacity-building programs. Key insights included:
- NFF commented on being responsive and flexible to the changing needs that arise during a program.
- LPCCD underscored the value of a long-term partnership model and being welcomed as a trusted member in the process.
- Prudential Foundation proposed valuable techniques on how to counter-balance power dynamics. One suggestion: encourage a nonprofit to invest how they see fit, not restricting funds based on a grantmaker’s assumptions of priorities.
This philosophy and intentional program design empowered the nonprofit leaders to determine their own needs, which built capacity, trust, and morale in more meaningful ways.
Is your board an under-utilized resource?
The “Pro Bono + Nonprofit Boards” webinar examined the qualities of a strong nonprofit board of directors. Tips included:
- Board members should specialize in critical service areas all nonprofits need to succeed: HR, marketing, technology, and strategy.
- Boards should aim to be diverse in both skills and backgrounds, reflecting the community they serve.
- They should focus on governance and advising, not day-to-day tasks.
- Most importantly, every board member should be expected to raise resources, financial or otherwise.
One way a board member could raise resources is by encouraging an organization to use pro bono services. For example, a board member could request a marketing agency to donate their services or consider connecting with volunteer marketing professionals on Taproot Plus, our online volunteer matching platform. By allowing individuals to contribute resources other than money, the field of potential board members opens to those who may not have deep pockets. Welcoming resourceful, talented, qualified people who don’t fit the mold of the “traditional” board member could benefit any nonprofit.
Today’s challenges with skills-based volunteering
“The Who’s Who of Pro Bono” networking session encouraged corporate pro bono specialists to share opinions and feedback. Topics ranged from lessons learned during the pandemic to current social impact and business goals. Some saw a major drop-off in employee engagement with the shift to virtual and asked for suggestions. One said that with 80% of employees working remotely, scaling was a challenge.
A few lighthearted questions broke the ice—”what’s your most-used emoji” was a favorite. Participants had a chance to connect with peers in the pro bono space—and have fun. This session was not recorded.
The connection between pro bono and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts
In “Keeping DEI Front and Center in Your Pro Bono Programming,” Kevin Nigarura, DEI Strategist from Justice Informed, spoke on why corporate programming should be linked with DEI principles and how to strengthen accessibility and inclusivity.
He reinforced that pro bono, like all capacity building, can either perpetuate or combat systemic inequities. But he reassured that through capacity building and pro bono, we can increase equity and recognize the systemic harms in society.
Facilitated breakout rooms featured robust discussions anchored in these issues, including avoiding the disparities that DEI efforts aim to solve. Designing pro bono programs around power dynamics can help increase equity and inclusion. This session was not recorded.
Intentional design starts with your “why”
The panel in “Design by Intention: Company Showcase” discussed why intentional design choices are critical to impact within pro bono programming. Intentional design can help with:
- Building trust
- Empowering communities
- Setting goals for pro bono
- Making choices that make sustainable (and potentially scalability) possible
Panelists from Johnson & Johnson, Comcast, and Blue Cross NC provided insights in creating their skills-based volunteerism programs. Here are some takeaways:
- Johnson & Johnson expressed challenges from the pandemic with Zoom fatigue and lack of time between nonprofits and employees.
- Comcast surveyed employees for feedback, and almost 40% expressed interest in more skills-based volunteering opportunities.
- Blue Cross expanded their community network intentionally, and 90% of their nonprofits were new. They felt the impact of this shift immediately: A new nonprofit partner said this was the first time he felt seen and valued, and that this was the first time he felt people cared.
The question for practitioners when designing thoughtful pro bono programs: What is your WHY? This session was not recorded.
Interested in developing a pro bono program for your organization? Learn how Taproot can help.
The 2021 U.S. Pro Bono Summit session was presented free of cost thanks to our Leadership Sponsors, PwC and RBC, and our Series Sponsors, Johnson & Johnson, 3M, and MetLife.