Pro Bono and Skills-Based Volunteering: An Innovative Approach to Leadership Development

Written by Andrea Wong

With the changing demographics and increasingly competitive business environment, pro bono and skills-based volunteering represent not only a creative component of a company’s corporate responsibility strategy, but also an innovative approach to employee engagement, leadership development and talent retention. Last month, Endeavour and AstraZeneca had the opportunity to present this concept at the 31st Annual NAAAP International Convention, a three-day convention and career fair focused on leadership and diversity, hosted in Toronto from August 8-10, 2013.

What is pro bono and skills-based volunteering?

To begin understanding how pro bono and skills-based volunteering represent an innovative approach to leadership image1development, it is helpful to start with a definition. According to Volunteer Canada, skills-based volunteering is a service to a non-profit organization by an individual or group that leverages personal talents or core business or professional skills, and experience or education, for the purpose of building organizational strength and capacity.

Skills-based volunteering can also be understood from the perspective of corporate community engagement, as shown in Figure 1. Traditionally and most commonly, companies support non-profits through monetary grants and donations. As we move right along the continuum, engagement with the community becomes deeper – more than just writing a cheque. Skills-based volunteering can range from volunteering general skills like literacy tutoring, to serving on a board, to pro bono where an individual is volunteering professional skills in, for example, marketing or human resources. Endeavour focuses primarily on pro bono – the highest end of skills-based volunteering.

The business value of pro bono and skills-based volunteering

Endeavour is part of a growing global movement focused on engaging both professionals and companies in pro bono and skills-based volunteering. In the U.S, more than 500 companies, including corporate leaders like Google, HP, American Express and Deloitte, have already pledged to provide $2 billion worth of pro bono and skills-based volunteer services to non-profits through the Billion+Change campaign.

Research shows that there are many motivations and benefits for professionals and companies to engage in pro bono and skills-based volunteering. A report by Pro Bono Lab and Taproot Foundation speaks specifically to the business value in terms of human resources, reputation, and innovation for a company. In terms of professional and leadership development, pro bono and skills-based volunteering include some of the following benefits:

  • Creating a broader range of training opportunities that sharpen employees’ skills which are directly applicable to the work environment
  • Aiding in transitioning employees to new jobs or across divisions
  • Increasing opportunities to measure employee performance, including potential to promote outstanding employees
  • Improving employees’ skills in multiple areas, including communication, networking, problem-solving, leadership, team-building, presentation, negotiation, and decision-making.

According to the research, 75 percent of management also report leadership development as a result of pro bono and skills-based volunteering. As well, using pro bono and skills-based volunteering to develop the leadership skills of high potential employees can be less expensive than recruiting new executives or providing traditional training. Supporting this research is an article published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review earlier this year that called skills-based volunteering the new executive training ground, pointing to the cultural skills and adaptive mindset that individuals learn through skills-based volunteering that cannot be taught. All these benefits correspond with what we have seen through our work at Endeavour over the last six years, including in our most recent partnership with AstraZeneca Canada to introduce pro bono and skills-based volunteering opportunities to their employees.

A Canadian business case for pro bono and skills-based volunteering presented at the 2013 NAAAP International Convention

In 2012, AstraZeneca Canada partnered with Endeavour to offer an employer-supported skills-based volunteer project as part of its corporate responsibility platform and approach to employee engagement. Using the Endeavour model, the AstraZeneca volunteer team provided management consulting services to one of the company’s charitable partners.

In August, Endeavour and AstraZeneca presented this pioneering partnership in Canada at the 2013 NAAAP Internationalimage2 Convention. The session began with an introduction to pro bono and skills-based volunteering as an innovative approach to leadership development, with highlights of research from the field and real-life examples of leadership development among Endeavour volunteers. AstraZeneca employees, Anne-Marie Godbold and Krystin Scheider who volunteered on the consulting engagement, presented the Endeavour/AstraZeneca case. They shared their experience with skills-based volunteering within the corporate context, including how it contributed to professional and leadership development, team building, and employee engagement at AstraZeneca. During the interactive panel with the AstraZeneca volunteers and Endeavour representatives (Steven Ayer, Dave Nanderam, Andrea Wong), questions from the audience touched upon a variety of issues, ranging from the success factors for skills-based volunteering in a company to the uniqueness of Endeavour’s model.

The number and diversity of questions that came up at the session revealed not only a keen interest in pro bono and skills-based volunteering among professionals in Canada, but also indicated that more awareness-raising and education needs to be done in this area. In an effort towards this, Endeavour will be participating in 2013 Pro Bono Week from October 20 to 26. Among the planned activities for Pro Bono Week, Endeavour and AstraZeneca will release a business case for pro bono and skills-based volunteering in Canada, highlighting the success of the partnership as well as success factors and advice to other companies looking to launch a similar program.

To ensure you receive a copy of the business case and to keep up-to-date for the latest in the field of pro bono and skills-based volunteering, be sure to join Endeavour’s mailing list and to follow Endeavour on Facebook,LinkedIn and Twitter. If you are interested in exploring pro bono and skills-based volunteering partnership opportunities with Endeavour, email us at partner@endeavourvolunteer.ca.

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