Workforce development nonprofits have an essential mission in our changing world: to ensure that people get the training and services they need in order to find careers and thrive.
But where can these organizations go when they need business services outside of their own areas of expertise?
Pro bono service can be a resource to build nonprofits’ internal capacity—this year we’ve been featuring workforce development organizations using it as a tool to help them continue building communities that work. But we’re also talking to the skilled volunteers collaborating on those projects!
Together We Bake, a workforce development nonprofit we recently profiled on our blog, has used pro bono in a variety of ways since it was founded. Their team is still benefitting from an impressive Salesforce pro bono project they completed with volunteer Kim Lundgren—an IT professional with some great advice to share with others interested in donating their skills.
The kind of work Kim loves to do:
Kim is the VP of IT at Labor First, a benefits management organization that handles advocacy on behalf of retirees. Tech has always been her passion, and she has been a trailblazer as a woman in that field. “I was the third woman at my college to graduate with a degree in computer science—I’ve been working in IT since 1992, so it has been my entire career. I’ve had varied roles, but I knew it was going to be my path even in high school.”
“I find that I work the best being a bridge between someone like a network engineer and the C-suite. I’m the middle ground, because I can talk business and I can talk tech. That’s where I found my sweet spot—looking at a problem that a business has in crafting a solution.”
Why pro bono?
Kim has been doing pro bono projects for years. It all started with her desire to give back by doing some of the more hands-on Salesforce work she’s always enjoyed.
“I started at my current company through Salesforce consulting, where the executives eventually hired me full time and gave me a whole IT department to run.” The new role was a great fit but didn’t leave a lot of room for working directly with Salesforce hands-on. “Then I thought ‘maybe there’s a way I can do some extra, non-paid work for someone, just to keep my skills fresh.’”
Many volunteers like Kim start looking for opportunities to serve because they love what they do and want to give what they’re great at to others. “I’ve worked very hard,” Kim explained, “but I’ve also been very privileged, so I’ve always tried to find little ways to give back.”
She also knew that nonprofits that had no experience with the system would probably love to have some help getting started. “It’s great that Salesforce gives nonprofits this big, beautiful tool, but very rarely do they know how to use it. But if somebody who knows how a tool like this works can give them some hours of time to help set it up, that makes a big difference.”
Why this project with Together We Bake?
Knowing she had these valuable skills to offer, Kim looked for opportunities to share them pro bono on Taproot Plus. It wasn’t long before she found a great match. “It started as a way to stay involved in Salesforce, but then when I saw Together We Bake’s project and read about what they do—it was perfect. I knew I wanted to do it.” Their passionate dedication to supporting women is what made it such a natural choice for her. “Development for women is a cause that is very near and dear to my heart. I was a young single mom myself, and I worked my way through college while parenting. I’m drawn to anything that could give women and girls a boost—I’m always in it for the underdog.”
Kim dove into the details of what the team needed their database to track in order to help them reach their goals. “As a nonprofit of course they wanted to track donors, donations, fundraisers, and all of those things, but they also wanted to track their team members. And they were asking great questions: How can we keep records of our classes? How do we keep track of the women coming through our programs? And how do we help if they have challenges?”
The project called on both her deep understanding of Salesforce and her ability to translate IT concerns and opportunities to others—first as she dug into their existing database, then as she set up the system, and later as she trained their team on using it. Because she understood the system and had that expertise, she was able to point out ways they could use it more efficiently and make it work even harder for them.
“Keeping track of the women they worked with was so important to them. Bit by bit, the more we did it through the new system, the more they realized how easy it was to do. Now they can handle the simpler things themselves. And they can just reach out to me when they have something bigger to work on.”
Kim’s advice for others interested in sharing their skills pro bono:
- Choose a project for a cause you care about. Sharing your expertise is important, but so is sharing the passion of the nonprofit you’re working with. Knowing your work is supports a cause you care about makes a big difference.
“If you’re going to do pro bono work, make sure that you’re invested in whatever the nonprofit is doing!”
- Set up and stick to a scope of work. Things change, timetables shift, and we all have to be ready for the unexpected. A good scope of work helps ensure everyone is on the same page about what needs to be done.
“Don’t bite off more than you can chew! Know your limitations, and don’t be afraid to speak up if you’re going to need more resources or time to get it done.”
- Push back if you need to. Sometimes you’ll spot an opportunity or a risk the nonprofit you’re working with might not notice—letting them know, graciously, is important.
“Part of my job has always been to push back, to say if something isn’t a good idea. But it’s a fine line, and you want to be a diplomat too.”
- Avoid re-creating something that wasn’t working before. Learn what the nonprofit you’re working with is looking for, identify how their current system is letting them down, and clarify how your solutions will work as you build them.
“You never want to recreate the same thing; it’s better to ask, ‘Let’s see what you have, what you’re doing with it, and how we can make it work better for you.’”
Bonus Tip: Together We Bake’s cookies are tasty! And you can order some for yourself without leaving the house in their online store. “They’re very delicious—the cookies are really good. So’s the granola, just saying!”
This single Salesforce project has become a wonderful ongoing pro bono partnership—Kim has even introduced colleagues to pro bono by asking them to join in on her work with Together We Bake. The whole experience has taught her a lot about the financial challenges nonprofits face, and also how important pro bono can be in helping them meet those challenges.
“Working with Together We Bake, I learned how much they rely on financial donations and little grants here and there just to keep their business going—there’s just nothing extra, nothing left over. If somebody is doing something good for the world, perhaps we should all support that in whatever way we can. For some people that could mean opening their wallets, but for others that can mean offering their time and skills. Doing can be just as valuable as giving.”