THE BLOG
06/19/2013 08:43 am ET Updated Aug 19, 2013

The Power of Pro Bono

Nonprofit organizations today are being called to solve pressing social and economic issues -- and to do so quickly -- while their organizational models, budgets and staffing structures struggle to keep up. Through effective pro bono volunteering, businesses can help nonprofits harness innovation and technology to rapidly adapt to quickly changing market forces and position themselves for long-term success.

A national program called "A Billion + Change" is helping connect nonprofits with highly skilled workers and valuable pro bono volunteer services from companies across the country. Some 500 companies have committed to provide more than $2 billion worth of pro bono services to nonprofits engaged in good works.

These partnerships yield valuable benefits for nonprofits and businesses alike and show the creative ways in which some corporations are bringing their talents to bear for the greater good.

For example, Capital One pro bono volunteers recently partnered with the Virginia legal community to help Legal Aid of Central Virginia develop a better long-term solution to serving clients in need more efficiently. During the economic downturn, Legal Aid, like many nonprofits, saw its case load soar while its funding suffered a 20 percent cut. Legal Aid was forced to reduce its staff of attorneys by half, as demand for its services increased 60 percent. To better meet these needs, Legal Aid needed to become more efficient in connecting attorneys who could provide pro bono assistance with clients in need.

To address this challenge, Capital One and the central Virginia legal community convened in 2010 to find a solution that would bring more efficiency and accessibility to the pro bono legal system. More than two dozen volunteers from Capital One's IT, Legal, Communications, Supply Chain Management, Business Systems Analysis and Brand departments partnered with the Virginia legal community to develop a new technology solution, called JusticeServer, that matches low-income clients to volunteer attorneys offering pro bono legal services.

The system was designed to make it easier and more efficient for attorneys to contribute to pro bono client files by providing them with secure access to files from their own computers. JusticeServer also maximizes the time volunteer attorneys spend counseling clients in need by reducing the transaction time involved in assigning cases and projects.

JusticeServer is expected to assist 1,500 - 5,000 low-income clients in central Virginia each year, double the Legal Aid Society's capacity in 12 months and increase volunteer Legal Aid lawyers from 200 to 700. The more efficient system will also reduce annual IT license expenses for Legal Aid staff. JusticeServer was the first system of its kind to be developed for Legal Aid, and other states are now interested in replicating its model.

JusticeServer is one of many examples of the amazing power of pro bono. Any and every business can offer unique resources that can help people or organizations. Organizations that have taken the "A Billion + Change" pledge range from Fortune 500 corporations to start-ups with fewer than 10 employees.

While these pro bono efforts have achieved some great successes, more progress can be made. Volunteerism is a cherished part of the American character. Participation in such initiatives is good for the community and good for business. At Capital One, for example, surveys have shown that more than 90 percent of managers report their staff members display stronger leadership skills after participating in pro bono service.

Nationwide, volunteers in 2010 served 8.1 billion hours. But only 16 percent of all companies make it a regular practice to offer their employees skills-based volunteer opportunities.

We are asking leaders in the private and social sectors to join the effort and connect their talented employees with nonprofits whose work is vital to communities, but who are often faced with limited budgets.

The idea is big, but simple. Together we can transform business culture in America and create a new normal where companies give not only financial resources, but also give the incredibly valuable time of their people.

We know this can happen: there was a time when few companies tracked their environmental footprints. But today, a large company that doesn't seek to operate sustainably and report on its impact on the environment is an anomaly. Let's seize the opportunity to make pro bono programs the norm in companies, not the exception.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and A Billion + Change, a national campaign that has inspired the largest commitment of pro bono service in history. The series is part of A Billion + Change's celebration of mobilizing more than $2 billion worth of corporate pro bono services for nonprofits, which it will announce at "Service Unites," Points of Light's Conference on Volunteering and Service taking place this week in Washington, DC. For more information about the campaign, click here, and for more information about the conference, click here.

Subscribe to Must Reads.
The internet's best stories, and interviews with their authors.