On February 26, 2014, global leaders in corporate pro bono from more than 30 companies convened at SPUR in San Francisco for an intimate gathering to learn from peers and advance the field in a dedicated day of discussion and innovative thinking. The group represented a spectrum of pro bono models and promising practices, including companies that offered long-term initiatives, done-in-a-day events, team-based projects, international loaned employee programs, and many more opportunities. In the words of one attendee:
“The Summit is a unique meeting of the minds of people who are all working incredibly hard to achieve the same goal. There are limited opportunities for us to connect with our peers in a direct, open and honest way. The Corporate Day is a great way to share lessons and challenges. This summit is a prime example of the power of the network – and the power of Taproot to be the ultimate connector.”
Corporate Day at the Global Pro Bono Summit kicked off with an introduction from Taproot Foundation’s new CEO, Liz Hamburg, just a week into her new role. Liz welcomed the audience with updates from the field and a challenge to consider the disparity between the actual percentage (15%) of volunteer efforts that companies currently dedicate to skills-based volunteerism compared with the goal percentage (40%). The day was then organized into three primary events:
Promising Practices: Barriers and Bright Spots
The group’s first activity was a facilitated breakout table exercise focused on three core challenges:
- Gaining management buy-in
- Scaling a program with lean bandwidth
- Increasing the talent development benefits
Each table asked the participants to highlight “bright spots” (a best practice, idea or insight) as well as a burning question on a post-it. The groups then discussed areas of overlap and identified matches between the challenges and bright spots. As trends emerged, each table was asked to identify a representative to share one bright spot in a pop up panel. Five panelists led the group in a discussion around these promising practices. Related to this pop up panel, one participant stated, “There are amazing advancements in how the corporate sector is looking at getting more involved in the pro bono effort. Design firms (and professional services firms) have a role to play in advancing the dialogue, and for that reason alone it’s worth our participation.”
After sharing trends in the field and insights from colleagues across the sector, the day shifted to focus on perspectives from nonprofit leaders. Executives from StarVista, American Red Cross Silicon Valley, Art in Action, and Inneract Project shared their insight on the impact of corporate pro bono programs on nonprofit organizations and the need for pro bono to highlight the value of the work that corporate employees are doing in the community.
Design Charettes: The Next Big Ideas
The final facilitated conversation of the day featured breakout conversations self-selected by topic. Each group started with a Big Hairy Audacious Goal, tackling questions such as:
- How to achieve collaborative impact via cross-company collaborations
- How to leverage a pro bono project to create an issue-wide solution
- How to make pro bono services accessible to organizations outside of nonprofits
- How to utilize bono programs to help companies gain critical insights into markets
- How to establish a credible pro bono professional ethic
- What is needed to establish sound measurement and evaluation at the field level
As each group grappled with their BHAG, they created a framework to break down barriers to solutions. Each group then nominated a team member to pitch their idea to the room as if to a group of venture capitalists. Some took the form of role playing, some took the form of diagrams, but in the end, the room walked away with a better sense of what it takes to tackle these huge areas of need.
At the end of the session, each attendee was asked to share one take-away from the day on a post-it. Some examples included:
- Identify how to use pro bono as a career accelerator
- Ask about pro bono experience during recruitment screening calls
- Make it easier for employees to say YES to volunteering
After sharing everything from promising practices to the next big pro bono ideas, the day wrapped up. With pledges written and champagne in hand, the corporate representatives raised their glasses to toast the progress to date on advancing the field and moving toward greater collective social impact.
Amy Whittaker is a Senior Associate Consultant in Taproot Foundation’s Advisory Services practice.