I’m Volunteering My Story

Dec 15, 2011

Jackie NorrisToday’s post is written by Jackie Norris, the Executive Director of the Points of Light Corporate Institute and former White House Chief of Staff to Michelle Obama. This piece was originally published on December 13, 2011 on Momsrising.org.

As I pecked away at my laptop on a 6:30am flight to Atlanta, I took a moment to reflect on the three tasks I just completed long before I landed to start my day job. First, I reviewed the budget projections for Lafayette Elementary School’s 2nd grade class to assess if we were on track with revenue and expenses. Then, I mapped out key goals and milestones which undergird the 2012 strategy for the Impact Center Leadership Council, which I chair on a volunteer basis in support of women’s leadership development.  Last, I reviewed and edited a press release for my local food bank in advance of a big event they are having this month.

My guess is that my morning is probably pretty similar to that of many moms across the country. As moms and professionals, we volunteer for things all the time, and think nothing of it! What I do is “just what you do” to support and give back to the world in which we live. It’s pro bono—for the good of our children’s lives, our community’s health and our cultural future.

But pro bono means something more. While as moms, we consider volunteering for school or community projects as part and parcel of what it means to be a mom, as professionals, only a minority of us think of volunteering our skills and expertise to make the world a better place.

What does pro bono, or skills-based volunteering, look like? The clearest example I can offer is an accountant.  If an accountant wants to volunteer, they have two choices – to go out and do some “hands dirty” volunteering like stuffing envelopes, which is valued at approximately $12 – $15 an hour, or take the same amount of time to audit the books for a local nonprofit, which is valued at $150-$250 an hour. Think of what a nonprofit could do with the money they just saved!  They could support one more bed at the homeless shelter, an additional meal at the church, an extra round of home visits for shut ins, an afterschool program for latch key kids who’d rather not go home and be alone.

Interestingly enough, best practice businesses are embracing pro bono service as  the “new normal” in volunteering, recognizing that value to nonprofits can be leveraged when professionals move beyond painting walls, hammering nails or stuffing envelopes. With skills-based volunteering, businesses can harness the talent of their workforce to attract, develop and engage their employees, while creating shared value for themselves and their communities.

Take Alison Hager, she’s a great example of what skills- based volunteering is all about. Alison works as a Manager in the Corporate Controller’s Financial Controls Team at Pfizer. As part of Pfizer’s Global Health Fellows Program, she was stationed in Rwanda for 6 months, where she worked with the Access Project at Columbia University’s Earth Institute and the Rwandan Ministry of Health to help improve management systems for health care in the country. Pfizer has found its program to be a powerful leadership development and training tool, as well as a way to enhance its reputation around the world.

How can we then scale volunteer programs like Pfizer’s to achieve widespread social change? We can do so through initiatives like A Billion + Change, a national campaign to mobilize billions of dollars in skills-based and pro bono volunteer services from the corporate sector by 2013. The campaign aims to inspire and unleash talent and expertise to help build the capacity of nonprofits to achieve lasting change across the country and around the world. Guided by Points of Light and powered by visionary organizations like Deloitte, HP, IBM, the Case Foundation and the Corporation for National and Community Service, the main purpose of A Billion + Change is to get all of us – as moms, employees and professionals to ask the key question – how can we do the most good? To date, more than $1 billion worth of service has been pledged.

Pro bono really is for the good — of business and community.

To find out more about A Billion + Change, its upcoming activities and to see which businesses have pledged to lead the movement, visit www.abillionpluschange.org.