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Tuesday, Dec 6, 2022
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The New Currency: Pro Bono Help for Nonprofits

In the world of corporate philanthropy, cash has long been king.

However, in an environment where charitable cash contributions are being squeezed, when 76 percent of corporate donors acknowledge they must adjust their giving strategies, and when there is renewed national emphasis on volunteerism, it’s time to rethink our traditional “show me the money” approach against the backdrop of a tough economy. Corporate philanthropy is at a crossroads.

For some of the 9,000 nonprofits in San Diego, their very survival hangs in the balance.

Yet few corporate donors and nonprofits use skilled volunteerism as currency to complement existing philanthropy and help offset declines in giving.

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But they should, because it’s likely that those donors and nonprofits that expand their definition of corporate giving could emerge in a stronger position to weather the times ahead.

The time is right to redefine the traditional definition of corporate giving and tap what many business leaders consider their most valuable asset: the skills of their employees.

According to the 2009 Deloitte Volunteer Survey, 95 percent of nonprofits need more skilled volunteer support.

Similarly, 97 percent agree that they could increase their organization’s social impact if they could secure pro bono consulting resources.

Conversely, 78 percent of corporations agree that their employees’ skills would be valuable to philanthropic organizations, yet only half offer this type of support.

The need for cash is legitimate and undeniable. However, with corporate donations on the decline, the need to embrace pro bono as a complementary giving strategy has never been more urgent.

Consider this: Four-in-10 nonprofits say they will spend $50,000 or more for outside business consultants in 2009.

If they secured pro bono support instead, they could free up those funds for other uses.

Simply put: Pro bono makes money go further.


Slow Adoption

So why the slow adoption of pro bono, even though 95 percent of nonprofits say they need more of it?

One possible reason is that both sides cite significant barriers to the effective giving and getting of skilled support, given its inherently sophisticated nature.

But these barriers are not insurmountable.

Corporate donors can get started by first taking stock internally and then talking with current grantees about what types of skilled volunteer support is available.

Nonprofits need the most help in marketing, legal and strategic planning, but, according to the Deloitte survey, 95 percent say they don’t know which companies to approach for help.

Those are areas in which almost any large business has experience.

Second, they should offer a signed commitment. Companies generally follow through with financial contributions but many nonprofits have felt the sting of unfinished pro bono projects; 88 percent see the lack of a formal commitment as problematic.

Nonprofits can also take some important steps to foster the contribution of skilled support.

First, they must be ready to accept pro bono help. The Deloitte survey found that nonprofits are generally better equipped to cultivate cash, versus volunteers.

So, make sure to assign qualified staff or board members to solicit and oversee pro bono engagements in their areas of expertise.

And second, when negotiating sponsorship contracts big or small, think beyond the cash mentality. Recognize pro bono service as an asset that should garner benefits.

Treat it as the valuable currency it is.

It’s been said that no one should ever waste a crisis.

Indeed, these challenging economic times are driving many corporate givers to readjust their giving strategies to the new reality.

Given the unlikelihood of increased cash giving, make pro bono the new currency.

If our work force is one of corporate America’s most important assets, let’s make it the community’s, too.


Theresa Drew is managing partner of Deloitte’s San Diego practice.

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