Investing in non-profits, through people

How pro-bono and skills-based work help nonprofits.

By Daryl Brewster, CEO, CECP

Think about all the diverse industries across the globe delivering specialized services and products to customers, whether they are other businesses (B2B) or individuals (B2C). From food to fashion to financial services, companies are contributing something to meet the needs of millions of these consumers. They apply innovations and unique skills and resources to solve challenges and address opportunities. At the heart of these skills and resources are the companies’ employees, who bring their individual talents and creativity to bear each day on the things they develop.

Now imagine if companies were uniformly encouraging employees to apply those skills to solve community needs as well. Leading companies are looking at engaging with community programs not as charity, but as an investment in society where they leverage their skills and resources— employees, intellectual property, cash—to make a difference, and even create new markets. The next Top Action of an Engaged CEO that I’ll address in this column is “Commit your company’s unique skills and resources.”

The employee thread of the company skills and resources conversation is perhaps the most dynamic, as employee engagement comes in many shapes and sizes. There are both “extra hands” and skills-based opportunities. The CECP team recently spent a day offering some extra hands to the St. Bernard Project (SBP)/Friends of the Rockaways, restoring a house damaged during Hurricane Katrina. It was a great opportunity to get out of the office with our team to build deeper relationships and gain some sweat equity. Skills-based service on the other hand includes pro bono support, which must promise to deliver a high-quality final work product to the recipient nonprofit organization that it otherwise would have to pay for, using the day-to- day skills of a company employee (more information can be found on these criteria in CECP’s Valuation Guide at cecp.co/cgs).

Some leading non-profits, such as SBP, are effectively matching skills-based service of corporate employees with the major community challenges that they were created to solve. SBP forms partnerships with corporations in three strategic ways. First, SBP seeks companies with an interest in sending their employees to volunteer. Second, they develop hands-on volunteer experience to give employees a chance to see what SBP does and the problems SBP is working to solve. Finally, after the employees volunteer, SBP deepens the relationship by using skill-based support from the company in line with its business interests. Toyota, Zurich, and UPS are three partners that have helped SBP build capacity through skills-based support.

The Toyota partnership has enabled SBP to increase efficiency in the rebuilding process. Toyota sent consultants to New Orleans and Joplin, MO, to determine ways of improving construction work flow and to identify delays in construction. Through Toyota’s consulting, the timeline for SBP to rebuild a home was cut dramatically from 120 days to just 62.

The Zurich partnership was formed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina when it sought out a volunteer opportunity to support the recovery efforts. Since 2006, Zurich has donated more than $400,000 to continue SBP’s mission through volunteers and providing risk analysis on job sites.

UPS has shared its time and talent with SBP by supporting operations and the development of Disaster Recovery Lab. UPS loaned a senior executive for six months in New Orleans and shared their tool tracking software, which optimized warehouse and procurement standards in New Orleans and Joplin.

So, you see that skills-based service, and pro bono in particular, provides deep value to nonprofits, building capacity that lasts a lifetime. But what is surprising is how significantly the company also benefits from the project:
• Companies know that when their employees are engaged, they are more efficient, and happier in their jobs.
• Employees feel connected to a company that demonstrates strong values.

• Participants report that they worked on projects and built additional skills to which they might have never been exposed through their regular jobs. They also built deep connections with the colleagues on the project, and often say it was the most rewarding project during their tenure at the company.

Companies are listening. CECP’s annual survey on corporate societal engagement trends tells us that the percentage of companies offering a pro bono program grew from 32 percent in 2008 to 50 percent in 2012.
What CECP also believes is so vital is that these employeesare exposed, at a visceral level, to the challenges that face communities. It adds sensitivity to their work that creates a company with deep values, which takes community needs into account as it operates its business.

But we’ve just scratched the surface.

We know companies are interested in engaging their employees in solving societal challenges, but often do not know where to start. We also know that companies are doing much more of this work than they are getting credit for because they are not measuring it. We see 2014 as a year where companies focus on building, strengthening, and measuring pro bono programs—and a more focused application of their unique skills to tough community issues—and we are excited about the potential impact this will have on communities all around the world.

Darryl Brewster is CEO of the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy.

Posted February 11, 2014 in 25115