There has been significant discussion in the national service field about the need to build the capacity of nonprofits to utilize pro bono services. This is an important question, but not in the way it is intended.
The question is being asked from the frame of traditional service such as using volunteers for serving food at soup kitchens or painting a house. For this type of service, there is a need for a nonprofit to be able to recruit the volunteers, interview them, orient them, manage them and thank them. This requires staff time (i.e. capacity). This is a lot of work and exhibits why the service field tells us we can’t call Americans to serve without ALSO providing funding for the staff needed to support the volunteers.
These same people calling for capacity building of nonprofits look at pro bono service and see a huge gap in the skills needed to manage volunteers at a soup kitchen versus those needed to recruit, orient, manage and thank a team of pro bono consultants. They wonder what training is needed for a staff member to do the latter or if an entirely different person is needed for that role. Anchored in traditional service programs this is a logical question and comes from a great place–wanting to make sure nonprofits are set up to take advantage of this growing resource without being overwhelmed by it.
The private sector’s stance on nonprofit capacity
If you ask this same question of a partner at a consulting firm or ad agency you will get a very different answer.
Nonprofits shouldn’t be building the capacity to recruit and manage pro bono consulting or outsourcing teams. They should instead be building the capacity to work with self-managed consulting and outsourcing teams as a CLIENT. This is the core skill they need. They also need the skills to secure a pro bono commitment from an organization (much like fundraising). Finally, they need to have the capacity to thank and reward the team, but that usually comes naturally for most nonprofits.
These are the areas where investment is needed to build the capacity of nonprofits for leveraging pro bono services.
The biggest capacity building need may be on the provider end. The organizations providing the service need to learn how to control the scope without using dollars to set boundaries, serve an organization working in a more complex sector, and to identify the right projects and organizations to serve in the first place.
As odd as it sounds, we need to invest in corporate capacity building to really ensure nonprofits can take advantage of the opportunity.