How To Execute the Perfect Pro Bono Marathon

Nonprofit attendees of the Creating Change day-long summit

There’s nothing like experiencing your clients’ work up close and personal. This is exactly what I was able to do last week while taking part in the second annual Discovery Impact Creating Change program.

Discovery Communications is a corporate client of VolunteerMatch Solutions and uses our tools to manage its employee volunteer program. (We also like to brag that the organization was inspired to develop the Creating Change program while attending our annual VolunteerMatch Client Summit.) The Creating Change event was so well executed that it’s worth profiling for others to learn from and apply to their own volunteer projects.

The Discovery program consisted of two parts: First, a 12-hour pro bono marathon, where 25 lucky nonprofits (including VolunteerMatch!) had the time and talent of the Discovery Communications staff applied to a creative project of their choice. Second was a summit, where nonprofits close to the Silver Spring, Md. corporate headquarters were invited to take part in a full day of workshops and speakers.

Why It Rocked
The experience of being a nonprofit at the event is hard to describe, but here are a few reasons why I thought it was perfect:

  • Easy Peasy: From the nonprofit point of view – the entire process of applying for and accepting terms for a pro bono project was seamless and smooth. Discovery Impact made the Web-based application process turn-key by offering an easy interface without confusing jargon or complex forms to fill out. So even if your application wasn’t accepted, you didn’t feel like you wasted a ton of time going through the motions. The organizers were also proactive about following up for additional materials and next steps, making my job as the grantee a piece of cake.
  • Nice to Meet You: The nonprofits receiving pro bono help were assigned a project leader who set up a kickoff call to discuss the project in advance of the main event. We were able to chat with all the team members, which for us included professionals with a variety of talents including designers, developers, front-end engineers, photographers, copywriters and project managers. We got acquainted with one another and told the team more about our brand and the goals of our project, allowing everyone to feel more confident going into the big day.

    Social Media for Social Impact Session at Discovery Communications, Silver Spring, MD
  • Everybody Wins: There’s nothing worse for a nonprofit than when they spend a ton of time and energy applying for a grant or program offered by a company, only to be declined and left without anything to show for it. Discovery Impact had the good sense to offer everyone something in return, by extending an invitation for the full-day communications summit at its headquarters in Silver Spring, MD. The day consisted of workshops and roundtables on topics such as social media for social impact, how to convey your organization’s mission confidently and effectively, PR tips and tricks, pitching a corporate partnership, etc. The day was jam-packed with interesting content and chances to network with fellow nonprofits.

    I <3 event-branded cupcakes
  • Well Fed: I have no shame admitting that food is often my favorite part of an event. There is nothing more disappointing than feeling like you need to pack your own snack when attending a full-day conference. The Discovery Impact team is luckily of the same mind, and kept the flow of food going throughout the day – starting with oh-so-important coffee, and ending with adorable event-branded cupcakes to close the summit. But it wasn’t just the nonprofit attendees that benefitted; there was a steady stream of caffeine, cotton candy and cupcakes for the Discovery staff taking part in the 12-hour marathon too. (These are also important elements of high-impact Hackathons for Good).

    Me with the Discovery Communications team at the final presentation
  • The Big Reveal: Part of the fun in taking part in a pro bono marathon is the anticipation of what the final product will look like. With limited check-in opportunities, the Discovery teams had free rein to bust out their creativity (yet another best practice of high-impact Hackathons for Good). I was ushered in to a private conference room, where my assigned pro bono creative team and other Discovery officials were waiting. I was given the full treatment of a client, including print-outs and story of what the creative process was – culminating in the big reveal of the final product. Waterworks are common during the big reveal, but I luckily held it together, at least this time around.

In conclusion, running the perfect pro bono marathon looks a lot like organizing the perfect event. But unique to an event like the one hosted by Discovery Impact is the requirement of having eager, passionate employees willing to donate their time and talents to the needs of nonprofits. I am amazed by the dedication displayed by the members of our project team. To them, the relationship with VolunteerMatch did not end after the 12-hour period. The event instead kicked off a lasting relationship where the work they’ve done will live on and they can continue to see the impact they made on our organization.

Stay tuned for the big reveal of one of these projects – a redesign of the Volunteering Is CSR and Engaging Volunteers blogs!

2 thoughts on “How To Execute the Perfect Pro Bono Marathon”

  • 1
    Arlan Berglas on November 16, 2011

    Thank you Volunteer Match for helping our online volunteer mentors help others!

  • 2
    KIm on November 16, 2011

    Casey, Thanks for sharing your experience. Sounds like a terrific event, cupcakes and all. Would love to see this as an upcoming webinar to learn more…. project selection, recruitment of staff, lessons learned in year 1 and 2 etc. Kudos to Discovery Communications!

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