For the last 18 months Taproot has been working to become a Service Enterprise. As a member of Reimagining Service we are committed to making the investment and set as a goal doubling our team’s capacity by the end of 2013 by embracing volunteers not just in our Service Grant delivery but in our operations.
It’s actually going better than expected. Not to say there have been no challenges – but overall, we are on track. For those of you either on the same path or considering it, we wanted to share our learning and experience.
Service Enterprise: Year One (2011)
Last year was the start of our transformation to include volunteers at the core of our operations. We worked on a two pronged strategy: bottom-up and top-down. The top down strategy included getting board and leadership buy-in, appointing an executive sponsor (volunteerism veteran Ann Burroughs) and modifying our strategic plan to include this priority. The staff led effort was kicked off at our All Root retreat last year, where I challenged everyone at Taproot to experiment with using volunteers during the year.
The year provided some amazing experiments. Some succeeded wildly and others failed – but in all cases we learned and adapted.
Roots found great ways to engage professionals in our mission. We piloted a pro bono evangelism program in Chicago and created a volunteer creative director role. We engaged Warner Brothers HR executives in our board self-assessment. And we worked with FTI Consulting to do a major research study. The list goes on and on.
We also found that the concept could be difficult to grasp – and even threatening – to current employees. Despite the fact that we are driving volunteer opportunities through our programs, it’s a new concept for many roots who have not come from volunteer driven organizations. A key challenge has been communicating that we highly value our staff and nonprofit professionals while embracing the expertise of our whole community – including the expertise of individuals from other fields and diverse careers. We are still working on communicating our message as we build out the framework.
At the end of the year as we reflected on the experiments, we found that there were certain models of engagement that had produced a really strong ROI.
- Professional School Interns. We recruited MBA and MPA graduate candidates for the full academic year for 20 hours per week. They were amazing and the amount of time donated really made the recruitment and management worthwhile.
- Corporate Projects. When we got a self-managed team from a company or professional services firm we saw great value. There was a real commitment to completion and the core management was not put on our team.
- Our Service Grant PBCs. We recruit hundreds of business professionals already for our projects for nonprofits. We had mixed and generally low success engaging them on one off requests but did have success when we awarded ourselves a Service Grant or designed an ongoing and managed internal program for them to become and stay engaged.
These have become the three core strategies for our second service enterprise year. We realized that they not only worked but that we needed to pick a few models and build systems and training to support them. It wasn’t wise to try to build our capacity by using too many models of engagement. There would be too many moving pieces.
This year we are focused on these three models and building the associated systems. Each office is engaging interns and building a strong relationship with a local graduate school. We are rolling out the evangelism program across the country. Also, we’re working with the board to secure major corporate pro bono support. We also made it a goal for every Taproot leader to ‘Service Enterprise’ at least two functions in their department.
Our board is also engaged and taking on evaluating everything from our financial planning process to who we recruit for the board through this new lens.
It is an exciting transformation. We are just under half way there but have already come so far!