As Taproot Foundation’s 2020 U.S. Pro Bono Summit Virtual Series continues, we’re releasing a series of profiles featuring companies who are on the leading edge of pro bono service as we all work towards rebuilding our communities in the face of a global crisis.
What can corporate pro bono service look like? Prudential is constantly searching for more impactful ways to answer that question—and their signature PruBono program demonstrates their commitment to service, innovation, and community. Pro bono service is one of a multi-pronged approach to supporting Prudential’s home for more than 140 years—Newark, New Jersey. Prudential began to develop their pro bono consulting program in earnest in 2017, working with Taproot to build on the success of smaller engagements. Just a few short years in, Prudential employees have already provided more than 8,000 hours of service to more than 70 organizations.
In 2018, Prudential took their commitment to Newark to the next level by adding a second 10-week consulting program: PruBono Small Business Consulting. This innovative program now makes pro bono resources available to entrepreneurs and small business owners in Newark, following the model of their nonprofit consulting.
Prudential partnered with Rising Tide Capital, a nonprofit resource for Newark entrepreneurs, to connect with small business owners in need of additional support. The Small Business Consulting program allows Prudential to serve their community in a new way. “We’re committed to inclusive economic growth strategies in order to increase opportunities for economically vulnerable populations, and small businesses are a critical engine for growth in the city,” said Sarah Keh, Vice President for Corporate Social Responsibility at Prudential.
The Small Business Consulting program focuses on companies that have 1-5 employees as a way to reach those in need of the most technical assistance. “The strength of the bonds our employees create with the business owners they work with is the biggest highlight of this program for me,” Keh said. “Our employees become so invested in the success of the businesses they work with. They really want to go above and beyond.”
Above and beyond
One small business exemplifies the powerful potential of the PruBono Small Business Consulting program. Amazing Strides was founded in 2018 by Dominique Anderson in response to a pressing challenge. Services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities can be hard to find, access, and manage. Amazing Strides provides case management support to those individuals and their families in five counties across New Jersey.
For Anderson, this mission is personal: “Amazing Strides actually started in 2003, before I even knew it. When I was 16, my uncle who had cerebral palsy came to live with us very suddenly. When I founded Amazing Strides and thought through the services we would provide, I thought about the resources my family needed back then.” Anderson believes that her personal experience distinguishes the work she does with Amazing Strides and the families that come to her. “I was once in their shoes,” she says. “Now I can advocate for families like mine.”
Anderson came to the PruBono Small Business Consulting program in need of support to grow her business and improve visibility for Amazing Strides. The Prudential team identified specific areas with significant potential for growth. “Everything with the program and my team in particular was absolutely A+,” Anderson shared. “Sometimes you get stuck and you need feedback and ideas from outside of your particular field. They were able to help me think outside the box.”
One key finding? Anderson needed to improve her website to reach new clients. But the Prudential team didn’t just make that recommendation and move on. Instead, they leveraged additional talent from across the company to completely redesign and relaunch Amazing Stride’s website, taking their initial deliverable of expansion strategy recommendations to the next level. The team homed in on Anderson’s powerful personal story and the level of personalized service that she brings to each of her clients. “I was astonished by the website revamp,” Anderson said. “It’s been key. I’ve been getting so many more hits since the project!” Now, Anderson is even more excited for the future, sharing that Amazing Strides has “definitely grown” since the project concluded.
The Small Business Consulting program has a huge benefit for the organizations it serves. But the impact of the program goes even further than that—it shapes the employees who participate as well. Scott Schilagi, one member of the Prudential team that worked with Anderson, emphasized how eye-opening it was to learn about the need for organizations like Amazing Strides. “Right from the get-go, I was really inspired by Dominique’s mission. I think myself and all the others on the team felt very fortunate and fulfilled to be assigned to that project.”
Pro bono offers a unique opportunity for employee participants to practice and develop their skills in a new environment; adapting their expertise to a new context can be as rewarding as it is challenging. The project with Amazing Strides required a multitude of skills, from marketing and business development to UX design. But Schilagi noted that this project wasn’t just about technical skills: it pushed the employee team to practice valuable soft skills, too. “Working together, becoming a tight-knit group with an inspiring common goal—it was an opportunity to help develop collaboration, empathy, and teamwork.”
Prudential’s commitment to Newark is reflected back by the results of these projects. Schilagi described the project as an invaluable way to play a new role in the community where we work. “It’s easy to come into Newark every day and go straight into the office. This was a fantastic way to start establishing a connection with the people and the community here.”
“It’s so important to take a step back sometimes from our daily work and open your eyes to everything else going on out there in the world,” Schilagi concluded. “It expands your perspective on life.”
In 2020, Prudential is looking ahead to their next round of Small Business Consulting, maintaining their commitment to reaching grassroots-level businesses while constantly looking for ways to improve and innovate. “We designed this program with the intent of doubling down,” Keh said, describing the core objectives that inspired and shaped the PruBono program. “Not only on our financial investments in the community, but on ways we can leverage our business assets to invest more deeply in this community. When we can do that, we can create a more inclusive environment in the city.”
But Prudential knows that in this current crisis, small business support can’t stop there. Local businesses, who are critical to our global economy, are experiencing one of the greatest challenges in our history. In an effort to mitigate some of the hardship they are experiencing, Prudential has deployed over $1million in crisis-relief funding across the state of New Jersey. This donation is being utilized to aid nonprofits such as the United Way of Greater Newark’s Community COVID-19 Fund, which prioritizes public health and offers support to the nonprofit sector. Furthering their commitment to this work, Prudential provided additional capital to bolster a partnership between SaverLife and Neighborhood Trust. This partnership will deliver financial coaching, cash assistance and savings tools to employees of small businesses receiving assistance from the United Way Fund. In addition, to reduce layoffs from local businesses during the pandemic, Prudential waived rent for tenants in 21 retail spaces in Newark, New Jersey—most of whom are small business owners.
However, lasting, collective impact, requires partnership between various stakeholders. That is why Prudential is also partnering with the City of Newark, Invest Newark and United Way on the Small Business Emergency Grant Fund. This coalition will deploy capital to support small businesses, and the employees of small businesses, to address immediate cash flow needs and help them weather the current situation. From catalytic philanthropy, to impact investment’s Prudential is remaining a steadfast partner to small businesses during this time.
So, what does true inclusive impact entail? At Prudential, it looks like employees, nonprofits, and small businesses coming together, building a stronger community on a foundation of inclusivity—and accomplishing business objectives along the way.