How to Help Nonprofits Say “Yes” to Your Pro Bono Volunteers

Guest post by Linda B. Gornitsky, President, LBG Associates.

LBG-Pro_Bono_Cover_SmallSometimes when a corporation offers its nonprofit partners pro bono volunteers, they are met with a less-than-enthusiastic response. Sometimes they are even turned down. That’s because engaging pro bono volunteers requires a lot of time and effort on the part of the nonprofit.

LBG Associates, a corporate citizenship consultancy, observed that while the supply of pro bono volunteers has been increasing, the demand for their services has lagged behind. And without the demand to meet the supply, the promise of pro bono cannot be fulfilled.

This is why LBG Associates, in conjunction with LBG Research Institute, surveyed more than 1,400 global nonprofits about the challenges they face when they accept pro bono help and the solutions they have found to those challenges. The results informed its latest research report, “Balancing Pro Bono Supply and Demand: Challenges and Solutions from the Nonprofit Point of View.”

Top Challenges and How Corporations Can Help

Not surprisingly, time and money are the top challenges. But it turns out that some of the solutions to those challenges can be delivered by the corporation sending volunteers. The nonprofits themselves said that the following suggestions would make pro bono projects go more smoothly:

  • Offer help on a small, discrete project first. While it is tempting to go all out and want to provide strategic planning help, thinking small at first will help both sides get started as partners in pro bono engagements.
  • Screen potential volunteers for affinity to the nonprofit mission. Nonprofits reported that the best pro bono volunteers are those who believe in the mission of the organization as much as they do.
  • Allow the volunteer to work on the project during the workday. Not only does this send a message to the volunteer and the nonprofit that you support this work, it also helps keep the project on track. If the volunteer feels free to meet with the nonprofit during the day, for example, it prevents the already over-worked nonprofit staff from having to meet with the volunteer at night or on weekends.
  • Include an implementation grant with the pro bono project. Depending on the project, it may make sense to include an implementation grant to ensure that the work done on both sides shows a positive return. The volunteers can stay on through the implementation phase, too, to help see their recommendations come to fruition.

Is Pro Bono Worth the Time and Trouble?

Even with its challenges, the nonprofits reported that pro bono is well worth the time and trouble. Satisfaction rates were high, as were the intention to pursue another pro bono project:

  • 95% of nonprofits surveyed strongly agreed, agreed or somewhat agreed that their target issue was addressed
  • 82% of projects undertaken by the respondents in the past three years were completed and the deliverable implemented
  • 97% said the deliverable was at least somewhat useful; more than half said it was very useful or extremely useful
  • 75% said the end product was a good return on their investment of time and resources
  • Nearly 84% were at least somewhat satisfied with the overall pro bono experience
  • 90% would engage in another pro bono project in the future

These results bode well for the growth of pro bono. Couple the current success rates with sensitivity to the challenges pro bono presents to nonprofits and demand should start to meet supply. With the challenges in mind, corporations that have a pro bono program can have a heart-to-heart with the nonprofit partner about what will make these projects easier for them. Understanding the particular challenges of each partner and working with them to solve them is step one in building a long-term, successful pro bono partnership.

The report, “Balancing Pro Bono Supply and Demand: Challenges and Solutions from the Nonprofit Point of View,” is available free of charge. Download the report.

About the author: Linda B. Gornitsky is president of LBG Associates, a noted corporate citizenship consultancy based in Stamford, CT. Linda can be reached at linda@lbg-associates.com or 203-325-3154. www.lbg-associates.com.

Art work: Report Cover


1 thought on “How to Help Nonprofits Say “Yes” to Your Pro Bono Volunteers”

  • 1
    Daniel F. Bassill on November 25, 2015

    I led a non profit for 25 years and spent 15 years prior to that leading a volunteer based organization. I fully appreciate the value of volunteer and pro bono talent and also understand how difficult it is, especially for smaller organizations, to find ways to effectively use this talent.

    I created the Tutor/Mentor Connection in Chicago in 1993, with the goal of helping mentor-rich non-school programs grow throughout the city, not just in a few places. That meant looking for ways to help the emerging programs become great, while helping others stay good, or get great over time.

    Part of what I’ve created is a web library, aggregating information that anyone can learn from. This includes volunteers and donors, not just program leaders. As the Internet has changed, collecting and sharing information gets easier.

    Thus, my recommendation to the business community is that you begin to build a library of “case studies” showing ways volunteers have helped different non profits in the past. Organize this by profession, e.g. advertising, PR, finance, law, design, etc. Make that library available on line so that anyone thinking about volunteering talent, might look at what others have done, then approach a non profit offering service, based on what the non profit needs, and the time/talent the volunteer wants to offer. At the same time, non profit leaders would also be able to look at this library, and use it to describe pro-bono and volunteer projects that fill needs in their organizations.

    Is anyone doing this?

    I can add links to my web library pointing to others who are aggregating this information. I would hope others would do the same.

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