The Corporate Philanthropist: Pro Bono Service - Page 2
Deﬁning Pro Bono Service
Employee engagement is an important element of corporate philanthropy. In 2003, CECP dedicated an issue of this publication speciﬁcally to service and volunteerism. The current edition of The Corporate Philanthropist revisits the subject, with particular focus on the spectrum of skills-based volunteerism and pro bono service.
CECP is pleased to contribute to the dynamic conversations taking place with respect to pro bono service by sharing various perspectives and best practices in this developing arena.
In the context of evolving distinctions between skills-based volunteerism and non-cash donations of pro bono service, CECP offers a preliminary deﬁnition of corporate pro bono service. CECP looks forward to continuing partnerships with corporate members and cross-sector leaders to help companies leverage employee expertise in providing pro bono service to strengthen community organizations.
CECP’s Preliminary DeﬁnitionCECP has been involved in the challenge set forth in early 2008 by the President's Council on Service and Civic Participation to engage the corporate community in a three-year initiative committing $1 billion to pro bono service. While government, nonprofit, and corporate partners have each assumed leadership of the various elements of this initiative, CECP will be working with the corporate community to develop a standard definition of pro bono service to support ongoing trend analysis and benchmarking.
With the leadership of the Taproot Foundation, CECP and companies committed to pro bono service have made initial steps toward establishing a clear deﬁnition of the practice through an effort called the Pro Bono Action Tank. To support this, CECP added a preliminary question speciﬁc to pro bono service to the 2007 Corporate Giving Standard (CGS) survey, distinguishing this giving area from other non-cash donations and extending its relevance to companies beyond professional services ﬁrms. Due to the complexity and nuanced nature of pro bono service, it is likely that this question will be further reﬁned for the 2008 survey.
Employees engage in many types of valuable on-company time volunteerism strategies — pro bono is just one approach. But what differentiates pro bono from skills-based and “extra pair of hands” volunteerism is that pro bono services are rendered just as they would be for paying clients. If the work weren’t provided pro bono, the nonproﬁt beneﬁciary would otherwise have to make a substantial ﬁnancial investment to have it done. It is therefore implied that in providing pro bono services a company should commit to the quality, timeliness, and professional completion of the project just as it would for any paying client.
Basics of Pro Bono
Implementation DifferencesProfessional services ﬁrms often relate more readily to pro bono because selling services, scoping projects, and managing client relationships are all part of their business model. The infrastructure enabling a company to provide pro bono service is tied to the company’s core product. Moreover, pro bono services are often perceived as easier for professional services ﬁrms to supply than for other types of businesses.
Non-professional services ﬁrms have tremendous potential for pro bono, but they require more structure and training to capitalize on the opportunity. There are various hurdles, like engaging hourly wage earners, understanding pro bono service as it applies outside of the legal profession, and even providing service to outside clients, all of which can make pro bono work more challenging for companies in this category.
A Working Deﬁnition
- Commitment. Your company must make a formal commitment to the recipient nonproﬁt organization for the ﬁnal work product. The company is responsible for granting the service, stafﬁng the project, and ensuring its timely completion and overall quality. Projects that occur informally as the result of an employee’s personal interest and availability are not included.
- Professional Services. Pro bono donations are professional services for which the recipient nonproﬁt would otherwise have to pay. It is fundamental that employees staffed on the project use the same skills that constitute the core of their ofﬁcial job descriptions.
- Indirect Services. Pro bono services must be indirect, meaning that the corporation must provide the service through a 501(c)(3) organization or international equivalent. Most pro bono work will support the capacity-building or operations of the nonproﬁt organization. In some cases, pro bono service might beneﬁt the individual people whom the non-proﬁt serves, but this is rare in light of the criteria listed above.
A standard dollar valuation of pro bono service will likely play an important role in measurement practices in the future, although no clear guidelines have yet been set. CECP looks forward to its continued work with the corporate community to determine the best common language for standards in pro bono service.
Click here for more information, including examples of pro bono services according to CECP’s deﬁnition, and to download a copy of the CGS Survey Guide.