Pro bono service is no longer the new kid on the block in the corporate volunteerism space.
More and more companies have pro bono programs or active plans to build one. As pro bono continues to gain traction, companies are no longer asking themselves if they will create a pro bono program, but instead increasingly exploring how they can create one that is uniquely well aligned with their own core competencies and goals.
This question of how is where the real opportunity lies. A tried-and-true, off-the-shelf program design is sometimes exactly what a company needs. However, like any good investment, taking the time to build something intimately relevant to your company’s unique context can really pay off. If you’re investing the time and effort to build something new, don’t miss the opportunity to get creative and reach for maximum impact on your business and social goals.
Intrigued? Wondering what it can look like when you build a custom program to match your unique strengths with your community impact goals? To give you some ideas, let’s take a look at an organization that did it well: EMC.
Program Design: the EMC Global Impact Corps Program
EMC is an IT and business transformation company headquartered outside of Boston but with offices all around the globe. EMC’s Community Involvement team already had a great track record, with strong initiatives and a core group of nongovernmental organization (NGO) partners around the world. However, it felt like something was missing. The team sensed they had an opportunity to expand their impact both at EMC and on their NGO partners by adding pro bono support. Their commitment to thinking outside of the box resulted in the Global Impact Corps (GIC) program with impressive results.
The general description of the GIC program sounds straightforward: The program matches teams of three or four experienced employees for a working session with an NGO who has a critical capacity-building need in their area of expertise. But what about this program makes it distinct from a more common, off-the-shelf approach? How is it uniquely EMC? It’s the combination of the following:
- Commitment to global reach. Many companies begin by piloting a program in a local market, then consider what needs to happen to scale it. Not EMC. Global impact was such an important part of their goals as a global company that EMC structured the program to engage employees from around the world to support NGOs in their geographic region right from the start.
- Virtual access. To ensure EMC could choose the best possible projects and employee teams to support them, they designed the program so that work could be completed through video conferencing, email, etc. and therefore not limited to certain geographies. The virtual component allows the program to be truly global, as it enables NGOs operating outside of countries where EMC has a presence to still benefit from expert support within their region, expanding EMC’s impact beyond its physical footprint. Also, as a cloud computing and IT solutions company, this virtual work aligns well with the services EMC offers its customers – breaking down borders and barriers to conduct global work.
- Intentional talent development benefits. Pro bono programs can be structured to varying degrees to support employee development (take a look at Taproot’s Talent Development Roadmap for more detail). In this case, EMC’s volunteers are encouraged through a variety of mechanisms to set goals and make progress against specific competencies while working on their projects. This structured experiential learning opportunity also helps them gain a different perspective on their work, reenergizing and inspiring them to approach their responsibilities in an innovative way.
- Engaging a wide variety of skills, some of which are hard to access. EMC has a broad range of impressive talent, from marketing professionals, to engineers, to software designers. Some of these skills, particularly those in STEM fields, can often be difficult for NGOs to access through traditional pro bono programs. By making these and many other skills available to the participating NGOs, EMC is truly dedicating its unique talent to the social sector.
The results from EMC’s GIC program design and pilot were outstanding. NGOs from around the world received support that resulted in significant advancements. For example, one grantee that builds schools in rural Africa worked with a team to rethink their supply chain processes. The EMC team’s recommendations resulted in an estimated 15% decrease in cost per build and helped shorten their construction time from between eight and ten months to six – critical changes that enable the NGO to use the same amount of resources to impact more lives. In addition, EMC participants reported finding real value in applying their expertise to a new context, and the Community Involvement team gained internal and external recognition for the program.
Taking it Home
Designing a pro bono program in a thoughtful, customized way to meet your specific goals might seem daunting, but in reality it just comes down to thinking about your company’s unique assets and goals. Consider EMC’s example and start some dialogue. What untapped opportunities do you see to leverage your business to support social impact? Which of your company’s core strengths could address the needs of your NGO partners? And if you already have a program in place where do you see your goals reflected in your program design? I think you’ll be surprised to find that you already know more about building a custom pro bono program than you think.