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The Four E's: Tips to Run a World Class Pro Bono Program

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Imagine the good that can be done by unleashing the enormous human potential of businesses throughout the country. Every successful company is made up of educated, talented problem-solvers. By engaging and equipping employees to volunteer their professional skills, businesses can support understaffed nonprofit organizations with specialized skills and capabilities in critical fields including technology, finance, engineering, marketing, human resources -- areas where most nonprofits have very few resources. Here are four tips to starting a world class pro bono program -- it's easier than you think.

Empathize

To help a nonprofit, you first have to understand their needs. Use the same process you would with any new customer. Start with a conversation. Ask probing questions. Where do they want to be in a year? Five years? Do they have a plan to get there? What do they think is holding them back? Consider having a scoping session to help them identify their needs. Once you truly understand their issues then take the same pragmatic approach that you would in your own business. To set up your pro bono team, work to bring the right people with the right skills to the table. Develop a strategy on how to best serve the nonprofit. But all of this begins with empathy and understanding.

Engage

It all starts at home. If you expect your employees to step up and get involved then set the example and model the behavior you seek to encourage. Start building a culture where people want to participate. Give your senior executives the latitude to volunteer their own services. Hold and encourage team volunteering events. Include messaging on the value of volunteerism at every opportunity. Recognize and reward volunteer leaders. You won't just be building a culture of volunteerism. You'll also be building team unity and morale; and you'll be giving your employees the opportunity to develop new skills and new contacts and to feel re-energized and fulfilled. You'll have an engaged workforce. In the process you'll be building brand reputation -- and that's good for business.

Equip

Give people the tools to succeed. You wouldn't ask a carpenter to build a table without a hammer and nails. The same applies to building a pro bono program. Give employees the time, tools and technology to make a positive impact. Show you're serious by allocating staff to the initiative. Make it easy for managers to communicate the program by providing toolkits with key messages and FAQs. Set up a resource website that can be accessed by all employees where you can share basic tools, policies and guidelines, communication templates and leading practices. Help people find volunteer opportunities.

And last, but definitely not least, measure your success. Why is measurement in so-called "soft" areas like volunteerism important? One -- it will help you gauge the impact of your program and the benefit to the non-profit; highlight what's working and what isn't; and help you determine where adjustments are needed. Two -- if you can't prove your program's value to your business leaders, you will surely lose their support. And without senior management support, no corporate program can hope to last for long.

Set up a tool so people can create volunteer events and log their volunteer hours. Take pains to track a wide range of metrics including events by country and region; the business and social impact of your programs; the number of volunteer hours your employees contribute; the dollar value of those hours to the benefiting organizations, etc. You can use digital engagement metrics from your web tools; employee and non-profit partner surveys; and more. The results will provide a wealth of insights into the strengths and weaknesses of your programs; and, most importantly, you know if you've made a meaningful difference. Otherwise what's the point?

Excite!

This is the fun part. Create a sense of excitement and pride. Consider offering incentives and rewards for people to get involved. Encourage friendly competitions between business units.

By helping a nonprofit you'll become a part of their powerful story. Tell it! Produce a video that paints a compelling picture of how your employees have helped their communities. Showcase stories on company websites and in meetings. Recognize volunteer leaders. Share powerful stories with the media. Communicate, communicate, communicate. This program gives you the chance to celebrate your employees' passion and show the human, caring face of your business; as well as showcasing their skills. Don't waste it. And share your story on a national scale through A Billion+Change; together shaping and reinforcing a culture of skilled volunteerism throughout our communities.

We look forward to a time when pro bono is a standard offering of every business and nonprofits have access to the talent they need to achieve the outcomes we all agree are critical for a strong America. Join us. Make an impact! Help lead the way by starting a pro bono program. You won't regret it.