11/28/2012 12:06 pm ET Updated Jan 28, 2013

Benevolent Is Powered by Pro Bono

In September, Benevolent founder and CEO Megan Kashner announced a multi-city expansion of its innovative program. Benevolent, a Chicago-based nonprofit, works to meet community needs by creating a platform for individuals to give directly to other individuals. Individuals are able to donate directly to other individuals in need, and track progress toward meeting those needs.

Megan, formerly an executive director at Taproot Foundation, describes her initial "a-ha" moment that led her to create Benevolent.

I literally woke up one day in February of 2011, realizing that there were thousands and thousands of low-income adults who came up against challenges, and our social safety net didn't have a way to help them. Help them get uniforms when they were ready to take a job or laptops when they were ready to go back to school. And that over and over again we had to say, 'I'm so sorry. We don't have a fund for that.'

She realized that the connection between striving individuals in need and engaged citizens who want to step in and support them, was enough to initiate something huge in the nonprofit industry. After her "a-ha" moment, Megan began to rally the support of a variety of people in legal, marketing, software development, social services, etc., in order to lay the ground work for what would become Benevolent's pro bono strategy. From the beginning, their core competency as an organization is their technology-driven platform. Megan stated,

Our software backbone is now and always be will be critical to how we express our work and engage others in our strategy and our approach to continue to get software guidance, user experience advice, counsel, input and even design on a pro bono basis.

Pro bono consultants in the social media sector have also become a large component of Benevolent. Social media is one of the greatest marketing tools a nonprofit can use, and it is crucial to have specialized pro bono consultants who can provide guidance, strategy and oversight for all of Benevolent's social media work.

In such a short period of time, the success of Benevolent has been remarkable. As Megan puts it,

Benevolent is working. We have just completed our Chicago-only pilot and we've engaged with over 40 nonprofits and successfully helped over 40 people in just this very limited pilot phase.

Within 5 years, Benevolent hopes to be helping 25,000 people a year, thanks in no small part to the power of pro bono. In their first fiscal year, Benevolent's total cash income was just under $100,000, while the pro bono value they received during that same period of time was over $340,000. "As we get towards sustainability and scale, some needs will change, but we will always need pro bono partners in the area of marketing, PR and legal."

One of Megan's favorite success stories to share is about a gentleman named Al. Al had been homeless before making the decision to turn his life around, and sought help from a nonprofit agency in northern Chicago, where he received job training and transitional housing. He was offered several jobs working as a high end waiter but was unable to afford the black jacket, white shirt, tie, and black shoes that made up the basic uniform. Al and the northern Chicago nonprofit came to Benevolent for help and they posted his story online. Fourteen people offered their assistance, and Al was able to purchase the uniform and now works at the high end restaurant. He sent out a thank you note that Benevolent shared with his 14 donors, declaring that he would not be where he is without the inspiration and assistance of Benevolent.

Benevolent has a variety of current pro bono partners, including Webitects, Loeb & Loeb, Gividual Solutions and the Technology Innovation Center. Megan concludes,

My vision for Benevolent is that we will always be a home for both firm level pro bono, and also individual volunteerism. We very strongly value professionals who want to come in and do what they do best, and do it for a non-profit that is making a change in the world, and we hope to always make a place for them on our teams.

Such an innovative and successful nonprofit could only have been cooked up by a true pro bono junkie.

Benevolent is a featured organization on our Powered by Pro Bono Nonprofit Leadership Series, highlighting organizations that maximize their impact by leveraging pro bono resources. The series celebrates the launch of Taproot's new book and program, Powered by Pro Bono.