Amplifying Social Impact through Pro Bono Service
November 14, 2016
A new study sponsored by American Express, Ashoka Changemakers and the Taproot Foundation highlights the potential “win-win” partnerships between social entrepreneurs and business professionals. Amplifying Social Impact identifies opportunities for pro bono collaboration between these two groups, and makes recommendations to help achieve greater social impact.
As stated in the report, social entrepreneurs are often driven by the same values as traditional nonprofit leaders, but they tend to employ radically different approaches and organizational models. They focus on innovative solutions and achieving systems change often using market-based strategies to scale their innovations and ensure financial stability.
Social entrepreneurs can offer business professionals a deeper understanding of their own market base, which are sometimes groups of people that traditional businesses fail to serve or find difficult to reach. Likewise, working with business professionals can provide social entrepreneurs with access to technical and strategic expertise and vital networks.
For this study, 230 social entrepreneurs from the Ashoka Changemakers network and 405 business professionals gathered by a data analytics firm were surveyed on their preferences and priorities for volunteering and collaborating with each other.
Social entrepreneurs expressed a strong interest in partnering with business professionals across a wide variety of different capacities, but they were most interested in receiving support with communications and marketing strategies. They also expressed strong interest in help with business planning and development, monitoring impact, and website design and development.
Business professionals said they were interested in supporting the social entrepreneur’s social mission with education being the strongest area of focus. They also said that they wanted to do pro bono work on their own time – unaffiliated with their employer. But, a significant portion said they were interested in collaborating with a social entrepreneur as a central component of their role in their company. In fact, the more exposure that business professionals have to social entrepreneurs, the more they prefer integrating pro bono work into their jobs.
Finally, business professionals who had previously engaged with social entrepreneurs indicated that their most valuable take-away was the personal satisfaction that comes from helping – as well as the opportunity to learn from social impact leaders. On the other hand, social entrepreneurs were most excited about engaging with business professionals so that they can learn and leverage business practices, skills and experience in their own work for social good.
The study makes five recommendations for increasing the value and impact of pro bono work with social entrepreneurs:
- Introduce business professionals to the real needs of social entrepreneurs to unlock hidden demand for impactful work. Design corporate programs that center the needs of social entrepreneurs so that the business professionals accustomed to the traditional prescription of work and volunteering as separate activities have the opportunity to develop an appetite for pursuing social impact as part of their jobs.
- Design pro bono programs that tie into the core operations of a business. Match social entrepreneurs with companies working in relevant fields to unlock possibilities for shifting the meaning of work from financial gain to social impact.
- Structure time commitments to meet the needs of both parties. Structure pro bono programs so that a rotating team of business professionals works sequentially to deliver high quality support to a social entrepreneur over the long term.
- Recruit for the skill sets that are highest in demand. Creatively seek out expertise in the fields most desired by social entrepreneurs, primarily communications and marketing.
- Build trust and empathy to overcome misperceptions. Make room in the design of pro bono programs for business professionals and social entrepreneurs to cultivate empathy and understanding, build trust, and practice candor with one another.
American Express has provided pro bono consulting opportunities for our employees since 2012, and we’ve found many of the same benefits that our business professionals experience in working with nonprofit organizations and social entrepreneurs. During the past five years, over 1,000 employees have provided pro bono consulting services valued at over $6.5 million to over 200 organizations and social enterprises in eight countries.
During the recent Pro Bono Week, we launched our Serve2Gether Consulting+ program, an online platform designed by the Taproot Foundation to aid in the matching of our employees with nonprofit organizations seeking pro bono assistance in the United States. More than 2,000 nonprofit organizations are registered on the platform, and early indications signal a very positive reception from American Express business professionals searching for pro bono projects.
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