The founder of the Taproot Foundation explains how and why he’s working toward making all professionals give back through their work.
Most organizations tackling social problems don’t have the access to the marketing, design, technology, management, or strategic planning resources they need to succeed. Without this talent, few are able to have their intended impact on critical issues like the environment, health, and education.
In striking contrast to this deficiency is the reality that most nonprofit organizations do have access to the legal services they need. The legal community has made pro bono service part of their culture and an expectation of lawyers and law firms. The result is that it is rare for a nonprofit to pay for legal services or go without them.
Inspired by the success of the pro bono movement within the legal profession, I started the Taproot Foundation in 2001 to make pro bono service as prevalent in all the business professions as it is today in the legal profession.
Imagine if organizations tacking social problems had the same access marketing, design, technology, management, or strategic planning resources as corporations. Our goal is to make this a reality by 2020, so that all social entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders are equipped with the tools and expertise they need to succeed in the work that matters most. We called this campaign Pro Bono 2020.
We just celebrated our 10th anniversary and marked the halfway point in our Pro Bono 2020 campaign. As a result of our work, today many companies and professional services firms offer pro bono programs–donating consulting services to nonprofits. Twenty of the top 25 MBA schools now offer pro bono services. Over a billion dollars have been pledged by companies in response to a challenge by the White House. A marketplace for pro bono services is quickly emerging.
In creating change at this scale–and changing the role of business professionals in our society–the hard part wasn’t convincing business professionals to donate their time and talents. Our challenge was overcoming decades of ad hoc and inconsistent pro bono service had left the nonprofit sector burned and reluctant to engage. Nonprofits would remind me of the cliché “you get what you pay for” and introduced me to a new favorite: “pro bono is the gift that keeps on taking.”
Who would want to use a resource that was so likely to result in failure? And similarly, who would want to donate their time to an effort with that kind of likely success rate? Before we could begin to tout pro bono as viable solution, we had to understand the art and science of pro bono service. We had to know what it would take to make pro bono as reliable as paid consulting; a resource that could garner the trust of business and nonprofit professionals alike.
In seven years, we built the largest nonprofit consulting firm in the country, serving hundreds of nonprofits per year. We recruited over 40,000 business professionals and created teams to build websites and conduct market research and other critical projects for local nonprofits. We had achieved a 95% completion rate and had client satisfaction rates to rival any professional services firm.
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