In today’s business world, skills-based volunteering is about more than doing good. It’s about developing future leaders through a real-world application of leadership skills. It’s about creating a positive space for employees to practice innovation, adaptability, and empathy. It’s about cultivating a company’s workplace culture by directly influencing the attitudes and beliefs of individual team members. And, of course, it’s about doing good for the community and for your business.
Combine these benefits with Millennial expectations that their workplace let them make a difference, and it’s no wonder that pro bono service (PDF) — the donation of one’s professional expertise to social-change organizations — is one of the fastest-growing trends in corporate giving.
Here are six ways pro bono service is good for your business.
1. It develops talent and builds leaders.
It’s not easy to give employees the chance to practice skills like agility, effective decision-making, and change management. Yet these are the very skills that leaders need to drive business forward. Through pro bono service projects, new leaders put into practice essential competencies like collaboration, communication, and self-awareness. Pro bono work is a way to demonstrate a company’s commitment to up-and-coming talent and to provide real-world opportunities that build effective leaders.
2. It helps cultivate your workforce.
All employees, from Millennials to Boomers, are looking for purpose-driven work. Pro bono projects connect employees to the communities and causes they care about. It exposes them to a range of people and social issues that are outside of their daily routine. This experience is fulfilling and inspiring for your people, and it drives engagement, productivity, and diversity at your business.
3. It fosters a strong workplace culture.
Corporate culture directly affects how employees and customers feel about a company, but it’s challenging to cultivate or control. Pro bono lets you “show” — not “tell” — what your company stands for. It is a way to live your corporate values, to directly connect employees to the communities in which they live and work, and to create the cross-departmental collaboration your team and business need.
4. It drives innovation and and helps your business adapt.
In business, change happens quickly. Pro bono helps employees learn how to create new solutions to complex, unfamiliar problems. It gives them a chance to develop cultural competencies and rally together around a common goal. These skills help your people more effectively navigate change, making your overall business more agile and resilient.
5. It builds your brand.
Consumers are inundated by options and information. Pro bono service enables you to break through the clutter. Through powerful narratives about the ways your employees’ unique skills are making a difference and concrete case studies of how community partners benefit from your expertise, pro bono can bring your social mission and values to life.
6. It takes social impact further.
Return on investment matters — and the returns on social-sector investments are no exception. Pro bono can help you maximize your other philanthropic investments. For instance, pairing your cash donations with employee talent gives a nonprofit both the funds and the know-how to accomplish its goals. Pairing your product donations with employee expertise leads to happy nonprofit customers who know how to adopt and use your solution. Talent is a resource in itself, but combining it with other donated resources can further the impact of all your programs.
The bottom line
Employee engagement programs that are not tied to business goals are the first to get cut when budgets or priorities change. Connecting your social impact programs to both community and business goals ensures that these efforts remains a focus even as your business changes. This means consistent opportunities for your employees and consistent resources for your community partners. Getting clear on what skills-based volunteering can do for your community and business is the first step toward creating a sustainable, impactful program of your own.
Ava Kuhlen is director of external relations at the Taproot Foundation, a nonprofit that engages design, marketing, IT, strategic management, and human resources professionals in pro bono service projects to build the infrastructure of other nonprofit organizations. Taproot Foundation’s Advisory Services team has partnered with over 85 leading companies to connect their world-class talent with social sector needs.
Ava has more than 10 years of experience aligning networks of people and resources for social impact and specializes in nonprofits, philanthropic advising, and corporate social responsibility. She lives in Berkeley, California, and spends her free time playing outside.