Three Pro Bono Trends Strengthening Communities

Oct 24, 2013
This post is by Jenny Lawson, is vice president of corporate strategy at Points of Light and Kate Ahern, vice president of social innovation at the Case Foundation.
As we celebrate Pro Bono Week, it’s worth reflecting on the powerful trends that have recently emerged from businesses across the country as they continue to scale and deepen the impact of their community engagement programs.

In the 2013 Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy “Giving in Numbers” report, 50 percent of companies surveyed reported that they offer either a domestic or international pro bono program. This is an increase from 32 percent in 2008, clearly showing a growing trend of companies embracing skills-based service to lead change in their communities.


Over the past two years, we’ve also seen more than 500 companies pledge $2 billion in pro bono services to nonprofits through the national A Billion + Change campaign. Pledge companies are inspiring others to lend their time and talent to nonprofits through the powerful business and social impact that pro bono offers.

A picture is worth a thousand words, so we created an infographic showcasing the broad social impact and business value that the pledge companies are generating. We know that more pro bono is happening, but what innovations have emerged? We’ve identified a few trends, in which we see companies working in creative collaborations that lead to larger-scale success:

1. Increasing cross-company collaboration

More and more, companies are coming together to form collaborative partnerships that pursue shared goals through pro bono service. Sigma-Aldrich, a life science and high technology company, has partnered with nine major employers in St. Louis, Mo., to create STEMpact, an industry collaborative to improve STEM teacher quality in the region.

The collaborative is also working with Washington University to develop an updated science curriculum. Improving education through pro bono is an increasing trend – 77 percent of Billion + Change pledges target education as their pro bono impact area. Through partnerships like STEMpact, companies are leveraging their collective resources to drive tomorrow’s innovators through the power of pro bono.

2. Partnerships with city government

A new generation of mayors is taking on the challenge of reinventing cities for the 21st century. Companies such as IBM, a leadership partner of A Billion + Change, are proving to be an ally through initiatives like the Smarter Cities Challenge grant program – a three-year, 100-city initiative.

Through this program, IBM is donating $50 million worth of its employees’ time to help cities execute ambitious projects. IBM dispatches five- or six-person, executive-level teams of experts with a range of backgrounds, skills, and experiences that bring fresh perspectives, and help cities formulate strategies for improving the quality of life and the prospects of their citizens. IBM teams have already completed projects in dynamic cities worldwide – including Philadelphia; Katowice, Poland; and Porto Alegre, Brazil.

Civic Consulting USA is also innovating in this space, and re-shaping how cities work by creating pro bono teams of business experts and government leaders. Civic Consulting Alliance in Chicago has a 30-year track record of success – thousands of professionals have achieved real impact, such as increased community college graduation and decreased youth violence. Civic Consulting USA has launched to replicate this model in New York City and nationally.

3. Small businesses stepping up through service

Small companies are stepping up to the plate to contribute more than their fair share. Fifty percent of A Billion + Change pledges, in fact, are small businesses. Through innovative new business models, companies such as verynice, a global design studio, are giving 50 percent of their work away for free through pro bono. And, recognizing that partnerships are critical to scale, they are growing the movement by teaching other social entrepreneurs about their model. As verynice founder Matt Manos puts it:

“Through our unique business model, all of us at verynice have worked tirelessly to alleviate some of the expenses for nonprofit organizations so that they may re-invest their resources directly into their cause. However, here is the harsh reality: It has taken us 5 years to alleviate only .01 percent of the expenses that organizations are spending each and every year. Clearly, we can’t do this alone anymore.”

This post originally ran on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog.