Pro Bono Service: Not Just for Lawyers Anymore!

Did you know that pro bono service is the fastest growing domestic volunteer program among leading global companies in the last three years? According to CECP’s report on trends in corporate societal engagement, Giving in Numbers: 2016 Edition, the percentage of companies offering pro bono services in the US increased from 43% in 2013 to 54% in 2015. What’s more, CECP’s report on international corporate giving – Giving Around the Globe – also found an uptick in this skills-based volunteering practice with global companies reporting a rise in pro bono opportunities from 17% to 24%.


Source: Giving in Numbers: 2016 Edition

Why are companies embracing pro bono service so wholeheartedly? At CECP, we’ve heard from our companies that offering pro bono services can significantly amplify their corporate societal engagement impact simultaneously in the community and in the business. Employees want a break from the norm and a way to demonstrate their values and passions through the work. Pro bono offers a way for employees, through their companies, to make deep connections with community partners.

Offering a skills-based volunteering opportunity to your employees is an ideal way to develop their leadership skills and create a stronger sense of purpose, among other benefits. Companies that offer pro bono service are infusing a strong corporate culture into their long-term strategy and reinforcing it with the right incentives.

In 2015 alone, more than half of all companies surveyed by CECP for the Giving in Numbers report offered pro bono service programs. Within their non-cash contributions, the Technology and Financials industries offered pro bono services at a higher proportion than other industries.

Giving Around the Globe found a more varied adoption of pro bono service programs internationally: South Africa had a relatively low uptake, despite the country’s strong record of corporate philanthropy. On the other end of the spectrum, 71% of Asian companies participating in the survey reported offering a skills-based volunteering program. In Asia, the pool of companies with potential employees who want to devote their skills to societal causes is large. In 2016, the Forbes Global 2000 Companies ranking contained 200 companies from China, 219 from Japan, 67 from South Korea, and 56 from India— accounting for more than a quarter of the Forbes Global 2000 ranking in those four Asian countries alone.

Pro Bono in Practice


IBM is one company that has seen global success with its pro bono service program via the Corporate Service Corps (CSC), and in partnership with PYXERA Global and other NGOs. Launched in 2008, the CSC sends high achieving IBM employees to perform community-driven economic development projects in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America, working at the intersection of business, technology, and society. NGO partners like PYXERA Global worked with IBM to identify organizations best positioned to receive IBM pro bono support and with an equally strong need for technical assistance. IBM employees participate in a competitive application process to create teams from offices around the world and those who are selected spend up to four weeks in an emerging or frontier economy working on assignment with a government agency, small or medium enterprise, healthcare provider, education institution, or a local non-profit organization.

The results? IBM says that 90% of CSC alumni reported that the program increased their leadership skills, while 82% said it increased their desire to continue their career at IBM. In a survey of managers of CSC alumni, 64% said the employee is now contributing in more valuable ways. IBM’s program has provided at least $70 million in pro bono consulting services for host organizations over a five-year period and positively impacted the lives of at least 140,000 people directly and hundreds of thousands more indirectly through projects in the areas of education and healthcare. Plus, IBM says that the cost to send fifteen people on a one-month assignment is minimal compared to the cost of an individual placed on a one-year expatriate program.

To date, more than 3000 participants have served on over 1000 projects in 38 countries, helping IBM deepen its relationships, hone its employees’ skills, and better understand cultures and market conditions in emerging markets worldwide.

But what if your company isn’t quite ready to send teams abroad? There are alternatives. Rather than send an entire team, companies can send as few as one individual to participate in a multi-company cohort, as is the case for the Global Health Corporate Champions (GHCC). Following a successful pilot program coordinated by PYXERA Global and the USAID Global Health Bureau’s Global Health Fellows Program II in June, 2016 which included eight individuals from three companies, GHCC returns to Ghana in 2017 for its second year of work building the capacity of regional health organizations.

For companies interested in working domestically or locally, they can emulate any number of domestic pro bono service groups. There’s also a combination of virtual and on-the-ground pro bono work, where participants supplement a limited presence on the ground with virtual support. A final option that still in an experimental phase is known as micro-based pro bono service. This model consists of pro bono support limited to eight hours or less, delivered either virtually or in-person.

What’s the best way to find a nonprofit or community-based organization that will truly benefit from your company’s skills and talents? Team up with specialized regional nonprofits that have deep knowledge of how to engage skills-based employee volunteers effectively.

Most organizations tackling social problems don’t have 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. The role of business has always been to satisfy unmet needs, and when confronted by mounting social and economic challenges, pro bono service make sense for society and business—particularly for employees who want to invest in communities through their work.

Feature photo courtesy of IBM
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