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Is Your Nonprofit’s Pro Bono Muscle in Shape?

How nonprofit organizations go from not using pro bono service to regularly relying on the talents of experienced business professionals as a “go to” resource to support their missions.

SOURCE: Taproot Foundation


To go from zero to four-day-per-week workouts is tough. Really tough. But once you have your thing, whether it’s lifting weights, walking, spinning, or kickboxing, after a while it gets easier. Eventually, your body, mind, and mood crave a workout. Most of us just do it because deep down we know it’s smart and worth it.

For a nonprofit executive director or manager, when does the craving for a pro bono workout kick in? At what point does bringing in business professionals with particular expertise to help with critical projects at no fee become something you just do?  Often it starts when someone on your board tells you that you can access expertise in marketing, finance, HR, and IT—pro bono. Someone assures you that there are experienced business professionals who donate their time and talent this way.  And while you want to jump at this chance, you are smart enough to understand that this is an investment in getting someone new up to speed on your brand or your service model or even your finances.  And, you’ll need to figure out who on your team needs to be involved in this project. So sometimes you pass on the opportunity, and you fall back into your couch.

Thomas Madsen, Founder and Program Director of TwinCities Tutoring in Minnesota, is a pro bono gym rat. He got off the couch last spring and engaged a Google Adwords guru to help TwinCities Tutoring set up their Google Adgrants account (a Google grant for nonprofits).  Thomas had a discrete project that required a very particular expertise and didn’t require a lot of staff input. He didn’t sign up for an Ironman or a lifetime gym membership, he lifted a barbell and started.  Since then, he’s become a regular on Taproot+, the Taproot Foundation’s online marketplace for pro bono service, and has completed five projects so far. His most recent skilled volunteers drafted policies and board governance documents to help TwinCities Tutoring attract exceptional board members. Before that, Taproot+ connected Thomas to business analysts and accountants who were able to work on a business plan and identify an accounting app to use with their CRM, Salesforce.  

 “Taproot+ has helped in ways we couldn’t imagine!  The level of expertise is extraordinary and 99% of the time the people we talked to were the right people. We couldn’t hire this help because we just don’t have a budget for it,” Thomas shared.

TwinCities Tutoring, Emergent Ground, and Women’s Global Leadership Initiative (11 projects on Taproot+, and counting) are just a few examples of the many organizations with pro bono muscles that are really toned. When they need to get something done, they think about pro bono service as a way to make it happen.

Taproot+ has provided over $2.7M in services to social change organizations around the country and we and our partners are committed to improving our services to help many more organizations quickly and easily access the ready-and-waiting skilled volunteers.  For example, through the Walmart Foundation, we’re tapping the talent of Walmart’s technology employees to develop tools and best practices that will streamline a nonprofit manager’s ability to better identify and seek support for their technology needs.

“We’ve seen a mismatch in supply and demand in the field: 73% of nonprofits would like to secure more pro bono services if they could define the right project and we have 2,500 tech employees in California alone!  We wanted to create projects that add value to these organizations and we know that tech skills can have a really meaningful impact,” said Kabir Kumar, Senior Director of the Walmart Foundation, adding, “When it’s done well, service is a three-way relationship: the organization that benefits (nonprofits), the volunteers, and a facilitating agency to create it thoughtfully, effectively and efficiently.” 

Grab your sneakers, start small, and check out Taproot+ to start to build the pro bono muscle of your organization. 

Tweet me: How did @twincitiestutor and other #NPOs build their #probono "muscle"? @taprootfound

Contact Info:

Suzanne Craig
Taproot Foundation

KEYWORDS: Volunteerism & Community Engagement, Corporate Social Responsibility, Taproot Foundation, TwinCities Tutoring, Emergent Ground, Women's Leadership Initiative, pro bono, capacity building, skills-based volunteering

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