Originally published on the San Francisco Chronicle.
Small groups of people huddled around tables in an Oakland conference room. Some typed on laptops, their words appearing on projection screens; others scrawled on whiteboards and flip easels, or printed on colorful sticky notes for wall display. Phrases like “strategic plan,” “cultural competency,” and “target client population” floated through the air.
The occasion was a Pro Bono Marathon, an event sponsored by San Francisco’s Taproot Foundation to bring together professionals who volunteered to share their business skills with organizations tackling social problems. Taproot, which pioneered the idea of marshaling people to volunteer high-level talents, does much of its work by matching professionals with nonprofits for help with long-range projects. But one-day strike forces like this one are an increasingly valuable way to deliver pro bono services. Taproot holds about 15 such done-in-a-day programs annually in the Bay Area. “It’s a high-energy approach to get something done or fixed within one day,” said Joel Bashevkin, Taproot executive director.
Kaiser Volunteers: “Now we can equip nonprofits with more skills”
All three dozen volunteers were from Kaiser Permanente and brought expertise in areas like finance, program evaluations, marketing, human resources, and strategic planning. While the nine nonprofits hailed from the Bay Area and had missions as diverse as school health clinics, teaching English, and providing sports activities for girls, all had received grants from Kaiser, providing extra cohesiveness.
“We give them our money; now we can equip them with more skills,” said John Edmiston, Kaiser national manager for community engagement. “This gives us a way to provide more value to our community partners by providing skilled employees with deep knowledge to basically do free consultations.” Over the past eight years, Kaiser has given over $1.9 million to the organizations participating in the pro bono event, with grants ranging from $5,000 to over $840,000, a spokeswoman said.
Taproot spends several months setting up the workshops, recruiting and screening participants from both sides, creating the best match between volunteers’ skills and nonprofits’ needs, and coordinating prep work ahead of time so everyone can hit the ground running on the actual day.