Getting Started with Pro Bono Volunteering

Oct 17, 2023

Pro Bono Week, an annual celebration of the talented volunteers who share their skills with nonprofits around the world, is about to kick off during the third week in October. For companies that have not yet thought about how their employees and their unique skills sets can contribute to pro bono volunteering, here’s a primer on getting started.

First, what is pro bono volunteering?

Often referred to as “skills-based volunteering,” pro bono applies the talents of professionals to challenges in communities or gaps in the skills and services needed by nonprofit organizations. Pro bono service is actually a type of skills-based volunteering (SBV) wherein volunteers contribute their professional skills — typically the same exact skills they use to perform their job every day.

Pro bono volunteers provide expertise that directly supports a nonprofit’s internal operations, which strengthens the infrastructure and capacity of the organization, and becomes a powerful driver of social impact. By leveraging all types of workplace skills — from IT support and strategic planning to marketing and HR consulting — pro bono volunteering helps nonprofits expand their reach and become more sustainable, while allowing employees an opportunity to build and practice their skills.

Where can you start with pro bono volunteering?

1. Assess Your Business Needs and Competencies

The right place to start is with a thorough internal review and discussion about what makes sense for your business and your colleagues.

  • Which unique skills and competencies do your employees possess and which might need shoring up? Although you may be in the marketing industry, consider the broad array of skill sets that professionals at your company can offer—ranging from HR and strategic planning to marketing and IT support.
  • How much time and resources do you have to manage and support a new volunteer program?
  • Will you have internal buy-in from management? If not, what might you need to obtain this?
  • Would employees volunteer on an ongoing basis or, perhaps to start off, should you consider a well-defined timeframe during the year?
  • Would the preference be to align your pro bono volunteer program with a strategic area of focus for your business (such as education, nutrition or healthcare), or would you allow employees to determine which causes they volunteer for?
  • Should you start small? Even some of the most successful pro bono programs at the largest corporations start modestly. If your business has a presence in multiple markets, think about piloting a project in one market and build from there.

2. Determine Nonprofit Partner Needs and Readiness

Next, begin to identify nonprofits that might be a good fit with your company’s goals. You might consider working with a member of Points of Light’s Global Network to connect you with an appropriate nonprofit, or you might partner with nonprofits your company or foundation already supports with contributions.

  • Once you’ve connected, ask the organization’s team if they have a need for the skills that you’ve identified as the right ones for your company to offer. This might be an area that is essential to the nonprofit’s mission but may be underfunded or under-resourced. Always let your partners guide the discussion around their needs rather than imposing your priorities on them.
  • Then, help your nonprofit partners increase their readiness to make the most of a skills-based project. Share the organizational readiness assessment with them available through Capacity Commons provided by Common Impact and the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation. It’s a free, online tool with extensive resources to help build nonprofit capacity to navigate skills-based volunteering, including pro bono efforts.

3. Develop a Scope of Work

Once you’re collaborating with the right partner, you’ll need to work together to determine the project or projects you’ll be working on.

  • Agree to a set of deliverables, timeframe, project leadership and points of contact, and support for both the nonprofit and employee volunteer(s). Document them.
  • Work with the nonprofit to create agreed-upon expectations.
  • Mutually define what success looks like.
  • Determine how the project’s success and impact will be tracked and measured. Consider the difference the project will have on the nonprofit and the community they serve, as well as employee volunteers.
  • Discuss and draft a post-project support plan. This step will help ensure the sustainability of your efforts and will help the nonprofit maintain your pro bono recommendations or services after the project has ended.

4. Implement the project

You’ve got the right understanding of your employer’s goals, the skills you can provide, the right nonprofit partner(s) on board and projects mapped out, but now the real work begins.

  • Match volunteers to projects based on their interests and skill sets. A great way to do this is to develop a “job description” that will help volunteers better understand the skill sets and expertise, time commitments and leadership roles needed to complete the pro bono project.
  • Set expectations with partners and volunteers upfront and manage expectations throughout the project.
  • Organize regular check-ins with your partners and volunteers to discuss progress, challenges and future deadlines.
  • Monitor project milestones. Reassess and adjust the project’s scope if necessary.

5. Evaluate and celebrate success

Once the project is completed, measure the project’s success against the indicators and metrics outlined in the scope of work.

  • Issue a survey to your employee volunteers to gauge the outcomes and impact of their volunteer assignments on business priorities like skill development, leadership development and other factors important to your employer.
  • Issue a similar survey to your nonprofit partner to assess the outcomes of the volunteer assignment on the effectiveness of the collaboration, the efficiencies gained, how it will help them increase their reach and other factors important to them.
  • Reflect on what went well and what didn’t go well in the project and determine how that can be improved in the future.
  • Take time to recognize and celebrate employee volunteers for their work and the project’s results. Consider a pro bono volunteer spotlight in internal or external communications or as part of your employee volunteer recognition strategy.

Remember, you don’t have to go down the pro bono route alone. There are several great organizations that specialize in skills-based and pro bono volunteering like Taproot Foundation, Common Impact, Pyxera Global and Catchafire. And if Points of Light’s Corporate Solutions team can be a resource to you as you think through how, why and when to mobilize your colleagues in pro bono volunteering, don’t hesitate to reach out. Happy Pro Bono Week!

Katy Elder
Vice President of Corporate Insights, Points of Light

Spending 20 years in the corporate social responsibility sector, Katy mixes creativity and strategy with expertise in employee engagement and corporate citizenship to develop resources and learning opportunities that advance corporate social impact.