We’re excited to introduce Quick Consult, a new series where members of our team share insights into topics we hear are top of mind for pro bono practitioners. In this talk, Kim Gillman, a director in Taproot’s Advisory Services practice, provides three tips for more effectively engaging senior leadership in your company’s pro bono programming. Ensuring senior leadership buy-in can be a game-changer – check out Kim’s top tips and tactics here.
Tips on building a program that wows your senior leadership
Getting time on the c-suite’s calendar can be next to impossible. Yet time and again I’ve seen that pro bono programs are most successful when the highest levels of leadership are bought in. If leadership doesn’t understand how it works or see its value, it could easily end up on the chopping block as resources and priorities shift year over year.
If you want to ensure the sustainability of your pro bono program, get the c-suite involved. Here are three tactics to help you get the right folks on board. Which tactics you use and what will work best differs company to company, but regardless the benefit of buy-in from leadership is big – and worth exploring.
- Tactic 1: Generate excitement and support for the program by engaging leadership in program design.If your company is new to pro bono, getting senior leadership involved in the early days of design is key. Do they have a vision for what a pro bono program might look like? Do they have specific business or social impact objectives that you should consider? Are there any concerns on their mind that it’d be helpful for you know up front? If the answer to any of those questions is yes, you can develop a program with their input in mind. If they don’t have time to engage in the design process, at the very least get your initiative on their radar. Whether you’re breezing by their office for 15 minutes or dropping them a line at the water cooler, tell them about your program – and ask them what they think. You might be surprised by how much they have to say, and once you’ve got them talking, they’ll likely want to stay engaged and invested in your success.
- Tactic 2: Create an opportunity to observe the impact on employees and nonprofits by making leaders active participants in your program. I’m surprised by how often pro bono program managers assume that senior executives are too busy to get involved. Regardless of what level of leadership you’re trying to engage, senior executives can play a critical role in a program’s implementation. You just need to find a role for them that best suits their availability, interest, and talent. Do you have a leader who is a compelling and inspiring speaker? Sign him or her up for opening remarks at your pro bono program kickoff event to help pump employees up. Do you have a leader who is thoughtful and decisive? Place him or her on a judging panel to decide which pro bono project team made the best recommendation to their nonprofit client. Do you have a smart, well-respected leader that you think other employees can learn from? Match him or her to a pro bono project team as a senior project advisor. No matter who you’re trying to engage – or how little time they might have – you can find the right role for your c-suite leaders to play. I’d be willing to bet that once they have an explicit role and can observe the program in action, they’ll be much more invested in the program’s success.
- Tactic 3: Inspire ongoing commitment by telling leadership the story of your impact.We all know it: executives want to get to the bottom line – and fast. So you have to make sure that you know and are able to communicate the ROI of your program. Make sure you’re capturing both quantitative and qualitative data throughout your program experience that helps to bring its story to life. Look for data that captures both social sector impact and business impact. Then, when the program is over, it’s up to you to communicate an impact story to the c-suite in a way that compels and engages them. To do this, consider what is important to share and what ways of sharing will be most effective. Are they influenced by powerful anecdotes and personal testimonials? Or are they influenced by hard numbers and impact data? Do they like to receive information in a few straightforward bullets over email? Or should you schedule a meeting to share photos and key takeaways from each pro bono project? Know your c-suite’s preferred communication style and share your pro bono program’s impact accordingly. If you can successfully communicate how your pro bono program is achieving both business objectives and social impact goals, leadership will recognize that it’s a win-win-win – benefitting your nonprofits, your talent, and your company.
Ensuring senior leadership buy-in can be a game-changer for securing the growth and longevity of your pro bono program. And while there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to ensuring senior leadership engagement, creating even small touch points for them to participate can turn pro bono program spectators into program champions.
Kim Gillman is a Director in Taproot’s Advisory Services practice. She comes to Taproot Foundation with a background in non-profit management and organizational development and a deep commitment to meaningful social change. She says she’ll know pro bono has finally “made it” when J.Lo’s hair stylist offers his or her services to her – pro bono.