October 22, 2014

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The Power of Pro Bono: Getting Back More Than You Give

Millennials not only want to work at an exciting company—they want to work for a company that is making a difference.

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By Christian Yazdanpanah, Positive Impact, MEplusYOU

This is the third in a six-part series highlighting innovative trends in skills-based volunteering from pledge companies of A Billion + Change, a national campaign to mobilize billions in pro bono and skills-based volunteer services from corporate America by 2013. To date, more than 200 companies have pledged an estimated $1.8 billion of time and talent to help build nonprofit capacity at home and around the world.

Whether you look at the high school dropout rate or unemployment figures, it is apparent that our country and nonprofits are depending on the private sector now more than ever as we continue our economic recovery. With the growing demand for pro bono services, companies big and small have had to evolve the way they give. MEplusYOU (formerly imc²), a strategic and creative agency, is no exception, and over the past three years our Weekend of Love program has matured to create sustainable relationships with nonprofits while leveraging the opportunity to recruit, develop and retain our top talent.

Meeting the Growing Marketing Needs of Nonprofits

Over the past decade, the rise of websites, mobile apps and all things Facebook provides organizations an unprecedented ability to share their stories. In the past, a single newsletter or direct mail campaign could update donors and request funds. Today, an organization has to tweet daily and launch Kickstarter projects regularly in addition to past practices. A 2011 Taproot Foundation study reported that 41 percent of nonprofits receive pro bono marketing services while 52 percent need more.

While most organizations provide pro bono services to a few nonprofits annually, MEplusYOU believes that the growing need for marketing services requires a more innovative approach that could sustain a nonprofit’s brand past just one campaign. As Jean Case, CEO of the Case Foundation, put it at a recent Billion + Change Forum at the White House, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”  Once we left our pro bono comfort zone, we were able to see just how much a “weekend of love” could give.

Creating Sustainable Nonprofit Relationships for Social Change

"Weekend of Love" started in 2009 as an answer to helping nonprofits with strategic planning, creative execution and tech implementation. Instead of working with one nonprofit client over the course of regular business hours, we decided to identify two weekends a year and invite multiple nonprofits to participate and partner them with our volunteer teams to focus on their specific needs. By creating this type of engagement, we found that many of our staff develop a deep connection with the Moms Rulenonprofits and continue volunteering with the groups well past the weekend. As a result, over the past three years, we have supported more than 25 clients and have provided $2 million in services.

And the impact of our work continues to fuel our volunteers and strengthen the program. For example, we were able to partner with Save the Children to create a Moms Rule! website allowing users to send letters urging global leaders at a G8 summit to commit new and long-term funding for maternal and child health in the world’s poorest countries. Our team also worked with Volunteer Match to develop an iPhone app that helps people around the country find volunteer opportunities on the go. And while we value our national and global impact, we are equally committed to local organizations. Jubilee Park was created to be a catalyst for community renewal and enrichment for an impoverished, underserved 62-block neighborhood in East Dallas. After working with them to articulate their vision, create a theory of change and restructure their fund-raising presentation, they were awarded a $409,000 grant.

Strengthening and Engaging Top Talent

Examples aside, our "Weekend of Love" is not just a volunteer program; it has become a way to strengthen our talent. With youth unemployment rate at an all-time high, we understood the necessity of creating learning opportunities for students who want to pursue a marketing career.

During our most recent Weekend of Love, a nonprofit client asked us for help on design work for their website, business cards and other collateral. While the services were not in our scope of work, we decided to test the power of collaboration and asked the client if they would be willing to pay a few students a stipend for the design work if we managed them on a pro bono basis. They agreed, and after identifying five students, we recruited a junior designer to manage them.

The unique setup was successful not only in increasing student opportunities in the marketing industry, but it also helped us pipeline top talent in the region by seeing how they worked under pressure and in teams.

The success of this wintermester program became a catalyst for our new internship program. We learned that Millennials not only want to work at an exciting company—they want to work for a company that is making a difference. These students came to understand that MEplusYOU is not just a place where marketing happens, but a place that also supports nonprofits and gives our staff a place to grow and be rejuvenated doing what they love.

This specific Weekend of Love effort also helped us refine our internal talent development by allowing interns and new hires to get experience working on deliverables they might not normally work on in their first few months. We found this to be the ideal place to allow our young talent to demonstrate their potential. By placing them in a low-risk/high-reward setting, we are able to recognize their abilities much earlier, which would otherwise not be possible without the commitment of staff from every level of the organization, including senior-level executives. Our senior executives also participate to ensure that our nonprofit clients receive the same level of service and quality a paying client gets.

Now with our recent pledge to A Billion + Change, we can reflect on our past work and strategize how to continue evolving our program to support more organizations as effectively as possible. We are a mid-size company with just over 200 employees. When our staff learned that we had been invited to the White House to meet with administration officials and discuss our work with the wider business community, they understood the impact their weekends of service were having.

We are part of a national movement connected to a network of organizations committed to sharing best practices so that we can best serve our country and those in need through pro bono. What’s not to love about that?

About the Author:

As Manager of Positive Impact at Agencies of Change, Christian Yazdanpanah is responsible for designing and implementing corporate social responsibility programs as well as managing the RE:Invest Internship Program. After spending the last decade working in education and the social sector he is excited to bring that experience to the private sector to create innovative programming.

More from A Billion + Change:

Ritz-Carlton: How Skills-Based Volunteering Can Help End the Dropout Crisis

USAID and IBM in Ghana: The Role of Skills-Based Volunteering in Global Development

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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