In June 2015, Taproot Foundation and the Chicago Community Trust partnered together to deliver a ScopeAthon, a half-day workshop for small business owners in Chicago. Through this pro bono consulting event, Taproot looked to connect business owners to a team of consultants–volunteer experts in HR, marketing, IT and strategy–that would support the business in developing an action plan to tackle a pressing organizational challenge, ideally mitigating this problem’s effect on the business’s ability to sustain organizational growth.
Why pro bono?
Pro bono, short for pro bono publico, for the public good, refers to professional services delivered without expectation of a fee to organizations serving the social good. Taproot looks to connect nonprofits and small businesses to skilled volunteers through pro bono engagements. Many of these nonprofits and small businesses have limited resources to invest in key business functions like HR, marketing IT or strategy. These are important, yet often very expensive, infrastructural foundations that organizations need in order to become stable and resilient institutions. Through pro bono projects, nonprofits and small businesses can access these key resources without bearing the financial burden.
Since 2001, Taproot Foundation has played a vital role in building the pro bono movement across the country and the globe, delivering more than $148 million in pro bono services directly to nonprofits and other social change organizations.
Targeting the small business community
Taproot’s core constituency continues to be nonprofit organizations. However, with the implementation of a new programmatic approach to service delivery referred to as the Spectrum of Services, opportunities for other social change organizations to secure pro bono services have never been more readily available.
Taproot identified that opportunities for pro bono tend to be focused on nonprofits and not small businesses. Therefore, we looked to expand resources to this demographic through an engagement with the Chicago Community Trust. Taproot believed there would be great value in casting a wider net to ensure that these resources were being shared across all types of organizations, especially small businesses, many of which face similar resource challenges as nonprofits. Taproot identified the following parameters that guided our approach:
- Small businesses are the cornerstone of our local economies.
- About half of all Americans own or work for a small business.
- Currently 2 out of 3 new jobs are created in small businesses.
- Despite these facts, small businesses face daunting challenges: 8 out of 10 small businesses fail.
- Key reasons for failure include lack of support areas such as marketing, inventory management, finance, strategy and planning.
Supporting our communities
Beyond a strong need for additional resources on behalf of small business owners, Taproot also identified that many small businesses in the Chicago area incorporate community engagement into their business model, making this demographic particularly on-mission for an engagement. Looking to target socially-minded businesses that were owned or operated by minorities and women and located on the south and west sides of Chicago, Taproot looked to foster community development in addition to fostering growth for the small business community.
For example, Crisp! Mobile Grocery, a ScopeAthon attendee, provides the Chicagoland area with accessible, affordable, and fresh produce, among other products; and Cafe Chicago, another ScopeAthon attendee, provides low-income immigrant workers with job opportunities and training in the coffee-roasting sector. Small businesses like Crisp! and Cafe Chicago mirror nonprofits with nearly identical structural challenges, but with a severely limited pool of external resources–including pro bono services.
On June 16th with financial sponsorship from the Chicago Community Trust, Taproot facilitated Chicago’s first-ever Small Business ScopeAthon. Gathered inside the Chicago Architectural Foundation’s historic downtown building, nine small businesses joined twenty skilled volunteers or pro bono consultants to diagnose organizational challenges, identify potential solutions, develop a scope of work for one of those solutions, and build an actionable workplan for implementing that solution, all in four hours. The Small Business ScopeAthon was a resounding success for small businesses and pro bono consultants alike.
Small businesses represented included:
- Crisp! Mobile Grocery
- MSD Enterprises, Inc.
- Social Enterprise Alliance – Chicago
- Prado and Renteria CPAs
- Kaizen Technologies, Inc.
- The Quarry Event Center
- Cafe Chicago
- A Stroke of Genius Painting
Making an impact
In an evaluation survey sent after the event, 100% of small business respondents affirmed that they walked away with actionable workplans directly applicable to their unique business challenges. For example, one small business arrived at the ScopeAthon in need of a revitalized internet presence. This same small business left the ScopeAthon with a workplan enabling them to refine their Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest accounts; to develop an electronic campaign with a clear, focused message; and to ensure top search engine placement on major search engines. One small business employee reported:
It is amazing how much we can get done in a short period of time. What I am learning is how to push and re-focus, and the eyes from the outside helped [me] push.
Of the attendees, 100% of small business respondents would like to participate in another ScopeAthon, evidence that pro bono services are needed, applicable, and impactful in the small business sector.
Project types at the ScopeAthon included:
- 44% Human Resources (four projects)
- 33% Strategy (three projects)
- 23% Marketing (two projects)
Pro bono consultants in attendance also had rewarding experiences at the Small Business ScopeAthon. According to an evaluation survey, 92% of the pro bono consultant respondents found it fulfilling to apply their expertise in a new context and 77% plan to continue volunteering with the small business after the event. One pro bono consultant stated:
I thought the [ScopeAthon] was great! I liked that I could help immediately. This [the time commitment] was perfect. I felt like I really made a difference.
Since 1915, the Chicago Community Trust has offered innovative ways for Chicagoans to continue the proud tradition of philanthropy in greater Chicago. We have crafted giving programs that allow a wide range of donors to support the causes and communities they care about. In doing so, we hope to encourage others–especially young Chicagoans–to join us in giving and spread their impact.
Since 2001, the Taproot Foundation has worked to engage the nation’s millions of business professionals in pro bono services both through award-winning programs and by partnering with companies to develop corporate pro bono programs.