When we talk about leadership development in the nonprofit and corporate sector, there isn’t always an apples-to-apples comparison. As Taproot’s Drive Engagement campaign has evolved, we’re learning a few things about what pro bono and leadership development may mean for the social sector. Below, we share a few of these insights.
What does Pro Bono as a Leadership Development Strategy look like in the for-profit and nonprofit sector?
For companies: Pro bono service is an experiential learning opportunity that builds core leadership competencies among staff who volunteer. Pro bono projects vary across all organizational needs, including marketing, strategy, human resources, and many others. Throughout the engagement, the individual volunteer is given explicit opportunities to practice skills like setting direction, managing diverse opinions, and navigating ambiguity. Typically done in conjunction with a company’s internal L&D team, individual volunteers are supported to identify areas for growth, practice skills they are particularly lacking, and reflect on the overall experience and development.
For nonprofits: The combination of pro bono and leadership development looks a bit different. It may mean:
- Nonprofits engage in a pro bono project specifically focused on leadership development. The ultimate goal is to develop an outcome or deliverable that builds their organization’s leaders or leadership strategy. The pro bono project could result in a leadership training, leadership competencies framework, or leadership transition plan for example.
- Nonprofits engage in a pro bono project in another area of organizational need like HR, strategy, or marketing BUT the success of that project, and ultimately the sustainability of it, is highly dependent on adept leadership. Huh? Consider a key messaging project. A nonprofit undertakes a project to develop new key messages for their organization. However, for those messages to be truly useful, i.e. to be successfully communicated and articulated to stakeholders, leadership and board members need to have the communication, presence, and public speaking skills needed to carry those messages forward. Taproot has always said that leadership buy-in is essential to pro bono success. However, buy-in may mean more than approval or active support. It may mean leadership skills that will help that project succeed.
What does this mean?
To help a pro bono project be truly effective for an organization (i.e. sustainable, integrated into the organization, best supported by leadership etc.), there may be value in building the leaders’ competencies to carry the outcomes forward. Building the leaders’ skillsets can happen at the same time the other pro bono project is being completed.
We can build those leadership competencies with, you guessed it, pro bono service. Many nonprofits lack the resources to develop their leaders, so this addresses another critical area of need for pro bono expertise. Taproot has an engaged and eager pool of leadership development professionals clamoring to contribute these kinds of skills.
For many nonprofits, this insight isn’t new. These nonprofits purposefully integrate leadership training or leadership development into their capacity building projects. We’ve heard from funders that these types of “integrated asks”—those with both a pro bono deliverable and leadership support component—are some of the strongest they see from grantees.
But Taproot wants to encourage more nonprofits to take this double-whammy pro bono approach. To do this well, Taproot needs to pinpoint exactly what kind of projects, across all areas of organizational needs, would benefit most from being coupled with leadership development. We mentioned key messages above, but there are bound to be others. We’ll then need two pools of experts, both subject matter experts and L&D professionals, to provide the nonprofits with this combined level of support. And finally, we’ll want to understand if there are commonalities in the skillsets needed among leaders across certain projects. If so, what are they? And are there ways that this knowledge can help us “fast-track” more nonprofits to success?