Conversations with Free World Associates’ Founder and President, David Steinman
Free World Associates is a 30-year-old network of human rights and democracy activists. Completely volunteer run, their mission is to promote global peace and economic development by helping closed societies become more democratic, transparent, and accountable. At the helm is David Steinman, a foreign democracy revolution strategist who was honored with a 2019 Nobel Peace Prize nomination for his work.
Pursuing ambitious goals while relying solely on volunteer support has made David an expert in the recruitment and management of pro bono. To date, Free World Associates has completed 33 projects through Taproot Plus – ranging from creating PR plans to executing crowdfunding campaigns – totaling an astounding $193,200 in pro bono support. And David’s not done yet. With 18 Taproot Plus projects currently underway, this prolific pro bono user continues to leverage valuable volunteer support to achieve his organization’s lofty goals.
In this two-part blog series, we chat with David about his tips for managing skilled volunteers effectively and how pro bono partnerships have been the critical difference maker for Free World Associates.
Read Part 1 of David’s interview here.
Part 2: Run, don’t walk, to pro bono support
Taproot (TR): David, can you give us a better sense of how Free World Associates incorporates working with volunteers into your general operations?
Free World Associates (FWA): Myself and the contacts and advisors that formed our Free World Associates’ network lack many technical skills. We’re extremely knowledgeable specifically‑and perhaps narrowly‑in the political arena. However, I’m not very knowledgeable about social media. I don’t know IT. My artistic skills are nothing to brag about. And, I don’t know how to make videos or edit them. So our organization use volunteers to provide the technical services that we would otherwise be unable to afford. And, in addition to technical services, there are often instances where volunteers are able to provide advice and guidance in terms of coordinating their work with our other ongoing Taproot projects. In short, Free World Associates partners up with skilled volunteers primarily to supplement our own skills and to provide a more comprehensive range of capabilities than we ourselves possess.
TR: That’s great. Taproot actually advises nonprofits wondering what they can get done pro bono to start by looking internally at areas in which they may have experience or knowledge gaps.
FWA: Yes, and I think that’s why we’re such a good fit for pro bono. We started to use that tactic early on – it’s almost like we were thirsty for the very type of assistance that Taproot is able to provide.
TR: So thinking broadly, how would you say pro bono has impacted what Free World Associates has been able to accomplish as a whole?
FWA: I’ve recently been putting together a website and press release that includes some letters of reference from certain well known figures whose names would add prestige to our work. When I was looking at these letters, I realized just how many years ago I had gotten many of them. I reflected on the fact that during those early years, I was talking to people about plans for Free World Associates but I hadn’t been able to really put things together or create much traction on our work. When I look back and identify where the borderline was between just talking, planning, and thinking and actually executing, it was when I linked up with Taproot. [Pro bono support] brought me over that threshold. I literally would not have been able to get as far as I have without Taproot or their volunteers. It has made the crucial difference in Free World Associate’s projects.
TR: With that sense of progress in mind, what advice would you share with a nonprofit professional still considering whether or not to use pro bono?
FWA: I’ll keep it brief – run, don’t walk, to Taproot.
Quick tips from a pro bono super user:
- Use pro bono to supplement your team’s skills. Conduct an internal scan to see what perspectives or skill sets your team is lacking, and then recruit a skilled volunteer that can fill that hole.
- Take the leap. Is there a big idea your organization has been tossing around but hasn’t taken any concrete actions on? Take the plunge by bringing on a skilled volunteer who can help execute on those blue-sky plans and strategies.