“Creating Change” with Pro Bono: A Q & A with Discovery Communications

Most people are familiar with Discovery Communications for the award-winning work of its entertainment and news brands, including Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, TLC, and Treehugger. The Silver Spring, Maryland, company also has a strong commitment to social responsibility.

Inspired by its first ever global service event last June, “Discover Your Impact Day,” this December the company will launch an innovative program to deliver pro bono expertise to nonprofits, called “Discovery Impact: Creating Change”.

A pro bono “marathon” and launching pad for future skilled volunteer initiatives, “Discovery Impact: Creating Change” will feature hundreds of Discovery’s marketing, production and communications professionals working in teams over a single 12-hour period to provide collateral, branding, social media, event production, and marketing communications training for qualifying nonprofits.

Nonprofits are encouraged to apply before October 22 at:

This week we asked Discovery a few questions about the goals and challenges of organizing this pro bono initiative, and how nonprofits can participate.

Q: What is “Discovery Impact: Creating Change”?

“Discovery Impact: Creating Change” is Discovery Communications’ first pro-bono creative initiative, utilizing the power of our employee workforce to fulfill design, marketing and communications work on behalf of local nonprofit organizations.

Q: How do nonprofits get involved?

Nonprofit organizations that are interested in being a part of this event should submit an application outlining their creative needs. Services that Discovery will fulfill include, but are not limited to; social media training, event concepting, promotional materials, websites, pamphlets, logos, PSAs, press kits and mission statements.

Q: How will nonprofits be selected?

Discovery will select a group of nonprofit clients based on the application pool; chosen organizations will be notified in early November.  Teams of Discovery employees will complete all of the agreed upon work during a 12-hour marathon event on December 14 at Discovery’s headquarters in Silver Spring, MD. Representatives from each selected nonprofit will be required to attend portions of the event. Final work will be presented to the nonprofit clients on December 15.

Q: Where did the idea for “Discovery Impact: Creating Change” come from?

The initiative was born out of two places. First, Discovery launched its first global employee volunteerism campaign this past year and it was a great success. About 3,000 employees participated in about 40 different offices around the world – a 75% participation rate which was far higher than what many other companies have reported for their service days. This showed us how passionate our employees are about service. What’s more, following the event there was so much interest from employees to do more, that our CEO decided that it would become an annual event. This inspired us to find another avenue for employees to give back.

The second inspiration came from a presentation on pro bono service trends by Taproot Foundation’s Lindsay Firestone at the 2010 VolunteerMatch Annual Client Summit. Intrigued by the idea of a one-day marathon focused on utilizing employee skills, the wheels began to turn. It did raise difficult questions: Could we do something like that here? How would we do it with such a big company?

Q: How does a marathon event like Discovery Impact: Creating Change reflect the company’s unique culture and employee make-up?

Discovery Communications’ employee population is made up of so many different creative people from different backgrounds. Our employees are passionate, and thrive on a high level of energy in the workplace. A 12-hour day is not unheard of in this industry, so the event did not seem like too much of a stretch for our employees. Building a pro bono event around our employees’ energy and passion really fits our company’s style.

Discovery has essentially its own communications and marketing agency internally, which includes external & internal communications, and global events in addition to the creative and marketing teams. We really wanted to tap into these core parts of the organization and provide a platform to use their resources and skills for nonprofits.

Q: How many employees are expected to take part in the “Discovery Impact: Creating Change” event?

Expected participation is still unknown and will depend on how many nonprofits apply. We expect at least 100 employees to be a part of the day, but it could be many more.

Q: How will the initiative work?

Our team launched a website in late September to collect applications and help manage the projects.  We are now working to make sure the initiative gets in front of as many nonprofits as possible. The application deadline is October 22, at which point we will select the nonprofits we’ll be working with for the event.

After selection, there will be about six weeks of prep work, during which Discovery account directors/project managers will work directly with the nonprofits to identify and develop the creative briefs and finalize what the deliverables will be. The goal of this early brainstorming is to hit the ground running during the marathon event.

The initiative will follow some of the existing pro bono research that Taproot Foundation and others have done as benchmarks for successful skilled volunteerism programs. We are focusing on using the professional skills of our employees. Participating employees will need to quickly assess project complexity, identify deliverables, and help their team complete them on time.

Q: What will be the criteria for selection?

Nonprofits interested in applying should be located in or have representatives in the Greater DC area. Organizations will need to send a representative to be present at several key moments of the event, including a kick-off of the event, sometime in the middle as needed, for approvals/check-ins, and then the next day when actual client presentations will present the work back to the nonprofits.

Otherwise, we’re looking for a wide range of nonprofits. In the application, we ask for many different pieces of information to help inform our decision, among these are: the organizations’ mission and how they interact with the people they serve. We’ve also asked what their existing marketing plan and budget are, to help us understand how well set-up they will be to use the items that we deliver.

Q: What does success for this initiative look like?

Success for this project will be measured by employee engagement, excitement and their wanting to do it again.  Equally important is that the nonprofits are getting work that will prove to be successful for them. That’s the power of getting a new creative campaign or a first set of marketing materials that can really help for years and years. This is the power of skilled volunteering – its impact is enduring.

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