March 18, 2019

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5 Lessons in Corporate Pro Bono: Citi & Taproot Experiment With a Done-in-a-Day Model

Could a one-day pro bono model actually deliver value for nonprofits and engage employees?

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A Billion + Change is a national campaign inspiring the largest commitment of pro bono service in history. In this installment, Florencia Spangaro, Director of Stakeholder Engagement and Strategy with the Citi Foundation and Robert Acton, Executive Director, NY for Taproot Foundation, describe what they’ve learned through Citi’s pledge to Billion + Change — building nonprofit capacity through skills-based volunteer projects done during full-day Citi Skills Marathons. To learn more about the Citi Skills Marathon model, click here. You can also hear Florencia and pro bono champions from Taproot speak at A Billion + Change’s workshops at the 2013 Conference on Volunteering and Service in Washington, D.C.

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A year and a half ago, the Citi Foundation approached Taproot Foundation in New York City to build a “done-in-a-day” pro bono model to engage executives and employees in skill-based volunteerism that would meet the business infrastructure needs of our nonprofit partners.

Candidly, we had some hesitations before jumping in. 

Could a one-day pro bono model actually deliver value to our nonprofit partners? Would we be able to find projects that matched our employees’ skills with the needs of our partners? Would our executives and employees raise their hands to contribute their time and talent in this way? Would our nonprofit partners find the experience beneficial?

Five events later, we can answer each of these questions with a resounding, “yes.”

The Citi Skills Marathon

The model we built together is called the “Citi Skills Marathon.” During these eight-hour events, three to five Citi executives and employees work with nonprofit leadership and staff to address critical organizational challenges that our community partners are facing.  The projects are designed to build volunteerisminternal capacity and improve long-term impact.

To date, we have held three events in NYC, one in Los Angeles and one in San Francisco involving 158 volunteers working on 40 projects for 35 nonprofit organizations, and delivering a total of 790 hours of pro bono consulting. 

And we’ve learned a good deal in the process:

1. Structure Done-in-a-Day Events around a Theme

Our first event brought together nonprofits from various sub-sectors making the absence of a common thread was palpable.  Since then, we held a Skills Marathon on International Women’s Day in partnership with organizations serving this client base; on Veteran’s Day we partnered with organizations working with service members, and during Earth Week we organized a Skills Marathon for our environmental nonprofit partners.

These strategies helped our employees identify the “right” pro bono event for them based on their areas of passion and gave our nonprofit partners a good opportunity to network and engage with other providers in their space.

2. Recruit a Passionate Senior Sponsor

While the CSR team plays a significant role in ensuring success, we found that it helps to have a senior executive serve as a champion and sponsor for the overall event. Having a leader lends credibility to the experience, brings energy into the room and adds power to the recruitment process. 

3. Don’t be Afraid to Say, “Thanks, but No Thanks"

While we never like to turn down an employee’s enthusiasm to engage in the community, pro bono requires a strong fit between the project needs and the employee’s core skill set. If there is a mismatch, the experience is bad for everyone – the nonprofit doesn’t walk away with the deliverable they needed and the employee knows that he or she wasn’t able to deliver.

We learned to screen rigorously for the requisite skill and consequently, tapping an executive from the measuring taperelevant function (i.e., marketing if it’s a marketing project, HR if it’s an HR project) to identify the type of skills and experience level needed for each project has been essential along with being able to leverage the help of a partner like Taproot with experience in the area.

4. Measure Results

We have rigorously measured the results of the program and have been able to redesign for optimal outcomes. For example, in our first event, 84 percent of nonprofit executives indicated that Citi’s team members were “well-matched to their project.” This led us to re-emphasize the importance of skills matching leading to a 100 percent response rate to that question in subsequent events.

These quantifiable results not only help us shift our program as needed but also enable us to demonstrate the ROI of this aspect of the Citi Foundation’s “more than philanthropy” approach. While we decided to develop the survey tool in-house for this program, there are a number of external tools and learnings that we drew from and which can help you decide how to measure the results of your pro-bono activities, like the success factors outlined in Taproot’s Designing for Impact Framework.

5. Build the Program with Plans to Scale

With five Skills Marathons under our belt, we will now leverage the model through a “train the trainer” approach that will offer Citi offices around the globe a palette of best practices, tools and templates that we have built in order to enable their NGOs to receive Citi’s pro bono support in their local communities.

About the Authors:

Florencia Spangaro is the Director of Stakeholder Engagement and Strategy at the Citi Foundation. Her responsibilities include creating resources designed to help employees engage in Citi's Citizenship agenda through volunteer service, and leading the Citi Foundation’s disaster response program.

Rob Acton is Executive Director of Taproot Foundation in NYC, a national nonprofit dedicated to engaging business professionals in pro bono service in order to strengthen the nonprofit sector and, in turn, our nation’s communities.  Rob leads Taproot’s strategic effort to build a multi-billion dollar pro bono marketplace in NYC, providing access for nonprofits to high-impact consulting. Rob can be reached at racton@taprootfoundation.org or (212) 257-7652.

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

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