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Corporate Social Responsibility and Pro Bono Work -- It's Not Just for Big Business

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On June 27, I joined representatives from the more than 200 pledge companies of the Billion + Change Campaign for a forum at the White House celebrating skills based volunteers. During the celebratory conversation, several CEOs and policy leaders shared exciting updates and information about the pro bono services they are providing to the nonprofit sector. From PepsiCo and their global employee volunteer effort PepsiCorps and IBM's focus on STEM through education, technology and research to Deloitte's $50 million dollar investment in pro bono teams, major corporations are stepping up to leverage the talent and resources within their organization to build the much-needed capacity of the social sector.

As a CEO of a smaller company, it can seem like my efforts and the resources of other smaller companies are not needed. We can't offer multi-million dollar support and don't have a team of thousands or even hundreds to deploy. With the Fortune 500 taking on this challenge, small- and medium-sized corporations can sit back, cheer from the sidelines, and leave the heavy lifting to those with more to give, right? Wrong! All businesses can share their time, talents and resources to increase the impact of social change efforts.

IBM International Foundation President Stanley Litow said it best while describing IBM's pro bono efforts at the event -- that there is no solution to any major social problem that will come from the efforts of only one sector. I would go one step further and say that no solution will come from the efforts of any one type of business or organization. It is through combined efforts, collective impact and collaboration that we will see the needle move on the major social problems around the globe.

So what does that mean for small- to medium-sized businesses? Like small- to medium-sized nonprofits, these organizations make up the majority of the sector. According to the 2008 Census, firms with less than 20 employees make up 89 percent of U.S. employers. If small business is not part of the pro bono revolution then a significant piece of the pie is missing. Smaller firms may not have the resources to provide millions of dollars in donated time but there are several ways to assist the nonprofit sector.

Small Business and Small Nonprofits have shared experiences. Small businesses often have first-hand experience wearing the multiple hats and roles that nonprofit staff and leadership wear to meet their mission. Your similar perspective can be helpful in developing new systems, strategies and organization design in a sector that is struggling with limited staff and resources to solve serious social issues.

Small investments go far in small nonprofits. Often one or two volunteers providing accounting support, assistance with a strategic plan or leading a training, is all that is required to significantly help an organization in need. Funding for the nonprofit sector has remained flat or declined in the last few years and often on the chopping block in a nonprofit budget are costs related to marketing, strategy, technology and operations. Offering a few hours a month in one of these areas can go a long way to sustaining the efforts of a small struggling organization.

Board leadership and membership. Nonprofit organizations all need smart, thoughtful and engaged board members, especially small and new organizations. These types of nonprofits often require board members to do more than attend an occasional meeting or gala fundraiser. Allowing your staff to donate their time toward attending funder meetings, developing a strategic plan with the executive director, managing social media or mentoring nonprofit staff can go a long way towards creating a sustainable nonprofit sector. It also promotes goodwill in your community and can open your company to new customers, employees and partners.

Collaboration and alliances. You don't have to do this alone. One of the great things about the Billion + Change campaign is you have a built-in network of likeminded companies that are interested in leveraging their talent to create social change. If a small or large company in your area has pledged to provide pro bono services, connect and learn from their experiences. If you are concerned about your organization's capacity to manage a skills based volunteer program work with your local volunteer center or organizations willing to open up their program to outside volunteers. At the SISGI Group, we plan to connect with other small and large companies to increase our efforts. We focus our pro bono service on building the capacity of mostly small- and medium-sized nonprofits that often have the greatest need for skills based volunteers. We know we can't do it alone, so why not join in our efforts or others interested in collaborations and alliances. In Chicago the Civic Consulting Alliance and in D.C. Companies for Causes, are both great places to collectively provide skill based volunteers.

What's most important is that those of us leading small- and medium-sized business join the conversation and call for skills based volunteers. If small business and big business each commit to pledging to provide skills based volunteers to build the capacity of the nearly 1 million nonprofits in the U.S., imagine the lasting change that could occur on serious social issues in education, health, the environment and poverty.