Tips to Design Your Pro Bono Program

Tips to Design Your Pro Bono Program

At the 2015 VolunteerMatch Summit, Charles Schwab joined a panel discussion about transforming the traditional volunteer day into a pro bono day of service.
Schwab’s panel discussion at the Summit (left); Schwab employees, Gail Romano and Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, engaged with their nonprofit clients from KIVA during the Charles Schwab Pro Bono Challenge (right).

Schwab’s panel discussion at the Summit (left); Schwab employees, Gail Romano and Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, engaged with their nonprofit clients from KIVA during the Charles Schwab Pro Bono Challenge (right).

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How Charles Schwab launched their #ProBono Challenge, and what they learned: via @VM_Solutions
Thursday, March 17, 2016 - 2:15pm

By Amanda Lenaghan

Charles Schwab has a culture of service. Every year, thousands of Schwab employees volunteer in their communities through financial education programs, Schwab Volunteer Week, and our new Schwab Pro Bono Challenge. At the 2015 VolunteerMatch Summit, we were excited to generate a dialog about high-impact volunteering and share our learnings with other companies interested in creating an impactful pro bono program.

Schwab launched its Pro Bono Challenge in fall 2015, engaging nearly 300 Schwab employees to consult with more than 50 nonprofits across six cities. The Pro Bono Challenge engages predominately mid- to senior level Schwab professionals with expertise in marketing, finance, operations, strategy, technology, human relations and client relations, and matches them with community partners that are in need of that specific expertise in order to expand the impact of their services. The Schwab teams spend a half day consulting with the selected nonprofits in order to help them achieve targeted goals. We piloted the model in 2014 to better understand how it could quickly scale to all of our major employment regions. We learned a lot along the way and are eager to share our tips for designing a pro bono program that creates shared value for all involved.

Tip #1 – Design for Nonprofit Impact.

It was clear to us that we had the opportunity to help fill a critical gap in the nonprofit sector. Nonprofits spend between 2%-8% on organizational infrastructure compared to 20% on average spent by the private sector. Key functions that help optimize the way businesses run and make programs more effective are largely absent in the nonprofit sector. We felt this opportunity was one our pro bono program could address.

The results have been powerful. In our session, Shana Beal, development officer at EARN, spoke to the impact on her organization and immediate actions that resulted. We’ve also heard from other recipients of Schwab’s pro bono services such as Barrie Hathaway, executive director of The Stride Center, who said “We didn’t have an ‘ah-ha’ moment, we had an ‘ah-ha’ two hours. It was invaluable to tell our story and have the team reflect it back to us. We came here to work on a piece of new collateral – we’re leaving with not just new collateral but an entirely new way of marketing ourselves.”

Tip #2 – Leverage the Quality and Caliber of Employee Volunteers.

Many employees at Schwab have 20 years’ experience – and we bring five of them together on each consulting team to solve a specific challenge for a nonprofit. We know the combination of expertise and experience can be powerful. The majority of employee participants are senior managers and up, with many at the executive level. Nonprofits have been impressed; one shared, “I was frankly amazed by the skill and professional talent of the Schwab team…we could never afford their level of expertise.”

Tip #3 – Reap the Talent Development benefits.

While we did not design our program for this purpose, 99% of employees considered the event a useful professional development opportunity. Managers validated these findings. Creative thinking, problem solving and adaptability were all cited as top skills employees improved as a result of the Pro Bono Challenge. Susan Forman, vice president of public relations at Charles Schwab & Co., Inc., said “The freedom to be creative was such a gift. It was very gratifying to see the impact of our work.”

Now it’s your turn – whether your company is ready to launch a pro bono program or just dip your toe in – we encourage you to get started! Our VolunteerMatch Summit session ended with questions and discussion that demonstrated the strong interest the corporate attendees have in piloting or expanding pro bono programs. Even if you’re not ready to launch a formal pro bono program, celebrating and fostering existing pro bono work that may be happening in your company can build fertile ground. Schwab started small with a couple of pilots before scaling our program across the country – we wanted to ensure we had the model right and impact maximized before we invested in expanding the program. It’s ok to start small. What’s most important is that you design for impact and leverage your company’s unique assets and talents.

To learn more about the Schwab Pro Bono Challenge, read Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz’s LinkedIn post, check out our video, or visit our website.