Businesses can answer Obama’s call to service

    With the historic signing of the Serve America Act by President Barack Obama, more individual Americans than ever will answer the call to service in the coming months and years. What role can and should the business community play in answering this call?

    We know nonprofits need funding; it’s no secret that many are struggling to fill the gap between increasing community needs and decreasing cash donations. But corporate donors have another worthy asset to offer: the skills of their workforce. 

    Think about it this way. If the conversations between corporate grant makers and nonprofits are limited only to financial support, both parties will leave value on the table.  On the other hand, if corporate philanthropy is expanded to include the prized commodity of workplace talent, that will reap considerably more value – and do far more good -for nonprofits and communities in need.

    According to the 2009 Deloitte Volunteer IMPACT Survey, 78 percent of corporate givers agree that their employees’ skills would be a valuable contribution to nonprofits facing organizational challenges. And 95 percent of nonprofits say they need more skilled support. Yet, only 50 percent of companies surveyed offer pro bono and only 19 percent say they always look to contribute it, when cash is not an option.

    Nonprofits face real business issues; 40 percent of those surveyed plan to spend upwards of $50,000 this year to help resolve them. While cash donations will continue to be very important, if those organizations could make greater use of pro bono, they could free up capital for other uses -and offset some of the need to fundraise. 

    One example of the positive impact skilled volunteers can have is the work Deloitte has done for Repairers of the Breach, a local nonprofit offering solutions to homelessness.  For over two years, Deloitte has helped the organization address business challenges on a pro bono basis, including the development of an information technology system to help Repairers replace outdated administrative processes and increase efficiency. MacCanon Brown, executive director of Repairers, says the support is critical to helping the organization achieve its mission.

    Another example is Deloitte’s IMPACT Day. Today, Deloitte employees will set aside their work for the day and volunteer support to area organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, The Park People and the Boys & Girls Club. Volunteers also will provide their intellectual capital and business knowledge to the Down Syndrome Association of Wisconsin and the Autism Society of Southeast Wisconsin in order to help their members develop personal financial management, basic computer and job interviewing skills. 

    So, why the slow adoption of pro bono, as part of a regular giving strategy? Both sides cite significant barriers to giving and getting skilled support, but they’re not insurmountable. Consider these tips to foster pro bono in your organization:



    Suggestions for corporate donors include:  

    • Offer a signed commitment, as 88 percent of nonprofits see the lack of one as problematic.
      Be transparent. Let nonprofits know what type of pro bono and skilled volunteer support is available, as 95 percent said they didn’t know which companies to approach.
    • Advise nonprofit partners who at your company can help them secure pro bono support, as 97 percent said they didn’t know whom to contact.  



    Suggestions for nonprofits include:

    • Be ready and available to accept skilled support. Pro bono is a generally more sophisticated contribution than traditional volunteerism, so assign staff or board members to solicit and oversee pro bono engagements in their area of expertise.
    • Meet with corporate funders to discuss the top three business issues outlined in your strategic plan; ask your funders if they can identify expertise within their organizations to help address these needs.
    • When negotiating sponsorship contracts, think beyond the cash mentality and recognize pro bono as a currency that can garner recognition and benefits. This will underscore its value and encourage more of it.

    Corporate America has a powerful role to play in answering the call to service. At a time when the need for nonprofit services is on the rise and giving is on the decline, our goal in commissioning the survey was to spark a dialogue about how the full array of corporate assets can be better leveraged to maximize their impact on society.

    Scott Wrobbel is the managing partner of Deloitte Services LP in Milwaukee.

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