Traditional grantmaking doesn’t typically cover the true cost of running programs. This creates a precarious gap between available resources and program needs. Research also shows that racialized obstacles reinforce inequitable access to funding, making this gap wider and deeper for nonprofits led by people of color.
At Taproot Foundation, we drive social change by leading, mobilizing, and engaging professionals in pro bono service. Assuring equitable access to that service is one way we work to help counter systemic inequity.
Want to explore how your work as a foundation or grant maker can help counter systemic inequity? Reach out to our team and we’ll be happy to help.
Sherry Green, CEO & Founder of Building Families Together, Inc.; Dawnn Leary, Senior Community Investment Officer at Greater Washington Community Foundation (GWCF); and Richard Brown, Vice President of Philanthropy at American Express joined us as panelists for the in-depth conversation. Together we dug into newly released data, some of the needs and opportunities that exist in the field, and how pro bono service can be used as one of many tools to reduce the impact of systemic funding inequity.
Examining the Funding Gap Itself
- Funders paid 88 cents for every dollar of grantees’ actual expenses according to this 2018 study from Bridgespan Group.
- Nonprofit leaders of color consistently report disproportionately lower access to funding states Race to Lead.
- Our resiliency survey data shows non-white led organizations are disproportionately burdened by funding inequity when compared to their white-led counterparts.
- Non-white led organizations started more new programs and canceled fewer programs while navigating inequitable access to funding since March of this year.
Each of our panelists touched on different ways pro bono has been a part of their work and how it can play a role in supporting the sector more broadly:
Sherry and the team at Building Families Together, Inc., work to reduce generational recidivism by providing training, mentoring, and reentry services to incarcerated or released men and their families in Illinois. Finding grant funding for their mission has been such a struggle that they have been self-funded as an organization since 2016. Sherry pointed out that pro bono has played a major role in their marketing and branding projects, including building their website.
“What Taproot has been able to provide Building Families Together through their open access pro bono services—honestly—is sustainability. Sustainability, survival, growth, and opportunity; opportunities we wouldn’t have otherwise. Literally, without Taproot, we could not move our mission forward.” – Sherry Green, CEO & Founder of Building Families Together, Inc.
Richard Brown and American Express have funded open-access (meaning open to any nonprofit interested in participating) Pro Bono Speed Consulting workshops through Taproot to over 200 organizations. He shared that their team is dedicated to supporting and building the capacity of leaders heading up the nonprofit organizations that are the backbone of our communities and society. And they encourage their employees to share their expertise in support of that goal.
“The opportunity for a nonprofit organization to get that level of expertise that’s going to be free… that is so critical. There are definitely tools and skills that nonprofit organizations and leaders in the nonprofit sector need that can be offered pro bono by experts in the community.” – Richard Brown, Vice President of Philanthropy at American Express
Dawnn has served as an active partner to grantees for years through GWCF, notably leveraging Pro Bono Speed Consulting workshops for nonprofits experiencing dramatic revenue losses in 2019. She explained that investing in infrastructure is just as important for nonprofits as it is for businesses, and that pro bono is an important resource for building capacity at many of GCWF’s nonprofit partners.
“Greater Washington Community Foundation has been in existence going on almost 50 years and has had a value around building the infrastructure of social enterprises. Pro bono was an additional tool in the toolbox to learn about and to find out how to make that tool available to the organizations that we are working with.” – Dawnn Leary, Senior Community Investment Officer at Greater Washington Community Foundation
Pro bono can play a role in bridging the funding gap by connecting organizations with capacity-building expertise that they would otherwise have to budget for, and 95% of nonprofit survey respondents reported that the pro bono support they received improved their organizational effectiveness.
We’re encouraging grant makers to consider these top three takeaways:
- Continue general operations funding. Eliminating fund restrictions and relaxing reporting standards directly reduces the funding gap.
- Include pro bono in capacity-building plans. Pro bono is a powerful tool with many applications in this area.
- Open-access pro bono is best. Organizations can then access support regardless of their network or affiliations.