06/06/2012 10:22 am ET Updated Aug 06, 2012

Tackling Social Change With Pro Bono

While her childhood hopes to be on the offensive line for the Bears were dashed early in her career, today Kathy Hopinkah Hannan is still using her blocking skills working as National Managing Partner of Diversity and Corporate Responsibility at KPMG. KPMG recently pledged to join Billion + Change and is helping to define what success means as a partner at an accounting firm. We recently spoke about her career and how KPMG was an early pioneer in corporate responsibility.

Did you know you wanted to be an accountant when you were a kid?

I wanted to be an offensive lineman. True story, I really did. I was a big Bears fan and I loved football -- the line was intimidating and just fearless. If you look at me you'd say she's delusional. (I'm 5'4" and a hundred and twenty pounds.)

So, do you often feel like a lineman working as a leader at KPMG?

All the time. I have a unique role just pushing our agenda forward in the face of some real challenges in the marketplace, be it from the business environment, an economic or marketing perspective. There are people and ideas coming at me from all different directions.

Did it take lineman skills to get the firm behind Billion + Change and commit publically to pro bono service?

We've always done pro bono work and we clearly see the value internally. We use it as a development area for our people. It's really embedded in our value system. To us, it's accelerating the development of our employees and making better professionals. They need to understand the global markets; they need to understand the broader communities in which we operate.

What kind of services do you provide to nonprofits given your accounting focus?

It isn't "well, we're going to do your books for free." It is far more strategic consulting. It includes a broad range of consulting services including accounting advisory services and tax consulting services. There's a compliance component but it's the consulting piece that's the real value-add.

Interesting. So, what's an example of that type of consulting work?

We worked closely with the D.C.-based non-profit First Book, to position them to increase their capacity. They were preparing to request financing. Our corporate finance practice advised them on their corporate structure with regard to taxing regulations and proportion of revenue-generating models within the organization. We also helped them analyze revenue-generating models and created financial projections and designed the investment proposal. We also work with them to distribute books. It's very exciting. That program has even gone global. It's a great example of how we've been able to help a social enterprise. It's mutually beneficial and it demonstrates the impact that we're really having in our communities.

All your peer firms offer pro bono opportunities to employees. How do you stand out?

We've been doing this for years, although it's not something that we promoted externally. It's great that this is becoming a priority for other firms. For us, it's embedded in the business and we work with non-profits to connect the dots; it's not something that's a second thought. I report directly to our Chairman on this so it has the highest visibility and the attention of our leadership.

When we interview our partner candidates, we actually question them on their commitment to the community.

Doing pro bono work is criteria for making partner?

Working in the community is a criterion and for most of our partners, that includes pro bono work. We believe that this type of work is a skill that is necessary in order to be a partner. Our people are individuals that really want have an impact in their communities, and pro bono work is one of the best ways to do this. They want to know that this is valued by the firm and one of the competencies that they will be required to develop to get to the highest levels in the organization.

KPMG has taken the Billion + Change pledge, volunteering its best business skills and talents to serve the needs of nonprofits and communities at home and around the world. Together, Billion + Change pledge companies are inspiring the largest commitment of pro bono and skilled volunteering in history. Has your company taken the pledge? Learn how at