Digging into Social Sector Tech Challenges at Taproot's U.S. Pro Bono Summit

Lessons in Designing a Cross-Sector Convening
Apr 5, 2017 2:30 PM ET

In 2017, Taproot Foundation set out to deepen the impact of pro bono service. With the launch of our Campaigns, we’re now forging new directions in how to use pro bono service to address our most pressing global challenges, to purposefully develop our nonprofit and for-profit leaders, and to flexibly respond to the ever-changing needs of nonprofit organizations.

We’re drawing from over 15 years of experience defining and building a global pro bono movement, but this particular approach is new to us. And with newness, comes learning. So in an effort to encourage, inspire, and motivate others to follow a similar path, we’re sharing what we’ve learned so far.

Lessons in Designing a Cross-Sector Convening

What are we doing?

On April 26, as part of our annual U.S. Pro Bono Summit, we’re hosting Bridging the Technology Divide: Using Human Capital to Drive Nonprofit Technology Fluency, Adoption, and Use. As a part of our Campaign on Engaging Tech Talent in Pro Bono Service, this convening will gather nonprofit leaders, social sector technology experts, CSR and corporate representatives, and philanthropic partners. Together we’ll dig into the complexity and nuances of technology challenges among social change organizations and co-design how we can better utilize technology expertise moving forward.

The day will be a balance of exploring our present state and crafting future directions.

  • Technology and pro bono social sector experts such as Common Impact, Datakind, Idealware, NTEN, and TechSoup will contribute in-depth knowledge about the current landscape and available opportunities for technology pro bono among social change organizations.
  • Organizations like Donorschoose.org, Global Giving, and Planned Parenthood, as well as companies like JPMorgan Chase, will share how they are already tackling nonprofits’ needs with pro bono service.
  • In partnership with VMware, we’ll release two frameworks, both based on tried and true practices of the technology industry, that nonprofits can use to hone in on their organizational pain points and then maximize technology expertise to solve those most critical areas of need.
  • Adobe and Optimizely will share why and how they are coupling pro bono service with their product donation programs.
  • Oracle will introduce the nonprofit capacity model and why this tool, combined with pro bono service, can better set your nonprofit partners up for success. 

The convening is set to be a packed day of content and conversation that will open new doors on how we can solve social sector pain points with technology expertise.

What have we learned?

As an intermediary, Taproot feels both responsible for creating these types of cross-sector events and fortunate to be able to offer resources to our nonprofit community. Here are a few things we’re learning along the way:

  • People are eager and game for these types of conversations. It could be the technology topic, it could be the NYC venue, or it could be the time of year, but the response to this invitation was overwhelmingly positive. So much so that we actually had to close registration early due to the level of interest.
  • Our expert peers want to share their knowledge. There’s limited opportunities for intermediaries and other social sector experts to come together with a shared goal and a specific, clear way to showcase our areas of expertise. The technology and social sector experts named above have not only been gracious and excited by this opportunity but strategic in how and where they add specific value to the day’s event. This shows evidence for increased collaboration and collective impact in this area of pro bono.
  • Our nonprofit partners were the most difficult to get in the room. This one was a complete shocker, though the nonprofit invitee pool had the most constraints: we wanted nonprofits who had successfully completed tech pro bono projects already and were based in or around NYC so as not to have to incur substantial travel costs. Technology pro bono is relatively new in comparison to other expertise like marketing or business strategy, which may have limited those nonprofits who felt they could “contribute” to the conversation. This shows the critical need to build the awareness and opportunities for nonprofits to use technology talent.  

What happens now? Follow @taprootfound on Twitter for live updates—including conversations and findings—throughout the day on April 26 (#PBSummit2017). Stay tuned in early May for a report on the key findings and next steps coming out of the event. 

Want something sooner than that? Sign up to received updates on our Campaign work. Or contact us at pr@taprootfoundation.org to discuss how your company or foundation can start solving social sector challenges with technical expertise.

Taproot Foundation, a national nonprofit, connects nonprofits and social change organizations with passionate, skilled volunteers who share their expertise pro bono. Taproot is creating a world where organizations dedicated to social change have full access—through pro bono service—to the marketing, strategy, HR, and IT resources they need to be most effective. Since 2001, Taproot’s skilled volunteers have served 4,600 social change organizations providing 1.5 million hours of work worth over $160 million in value. Taproot is located in New York City, San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. and is leading a network of global pro bono providers in over 30 countries around the world. www.taprootfoundation.org