Why business and community leaders need to get ready for pro bono: Insights from Endeavour’s Scope-A-Thon

“Endeavour’s Scope-A-Thon has been an excellent opportunity to reflect on some tools and strategies to focus our leadership on sustainable funding models.” – Monica Varga, Urban Alliance on Race Relations

By Andrea Wong, Co-Founder & President, Endeavour

For years, businesses have been sending teams of highly skilled employees to paint walls, plant trees and serve meals as a way of giving back to the community. But a new generation of employees are changing the way companies “do business” with the community through pro bono – the donation of professional skills. Instead of packing boxes and cleaning parks, professionals that charge a pretty penny for their hourly advice and expertise are instead looking to volunteer their talents with non-profit organizations that otherwise cannot afford professional services.

Pro bono is not just good for the community, but it also makes good business sense. A growing body of research shows that skills-based volunteering and pro bono service enhance employee morale, team development, professional and leadership development, and add brand value. As a growing group of business and community leaders become aware of these benefits, a number are seeking ways to get involved in pro bono.

While pro bono engagements can be rewarding and have a high impact, those not ready for pro bono can find themselves in frustrating situations that yield little or even negative results. Unlike “extra hands”, pro bono engagements are more complex, requiring greater preparation and deeper engagement. With insights into common pitfalls and best practices from the pro bono field, Endeavour launched the Scope-A-Thon at the MaRS Discovery District – one of the world’s largest innovation hubs – to help non-profit leaders, professionals and companies better prepare to engage effectively in pro bono.

Increasing pro bono awareness, readiness and access

Endeavour Scope-A-Thon launched on June 21, 2014 at MaRS Discovery District with HP, KPMG and Scotiabank teams collaborating with nine non-profit partners.

Endeavour Scope-A-Thon launched on June 21, 2014 at MaRS Discovery District with HP, KPMG and Scotiabank teams collaborating with nine non-profit partners.

Building on more than 7 years of pro bono experience and a network of seasoned consultants, Endeavour’s Scope-A-Thon workshop presented insights, best practices and tools to help professionals and non-profits scope out practical and impactful pro bono projects. The program takes participants through three stages and objectives: (1) Increasing awareness of the benefits and common pitfalls of pro bono; (2) Assessing and increasing readiness to engage effectively in pro bono consulting; and (3) Promoting access to pro bono resources.

Participating in the first-ever Scope-A-Thon in Canada were volunteer teams from HP, KPMG and Scotiabank – corporate leaders that invest in their people and communities. The volunteer teams worked with a diverse group of non-profit organizations: b current, Learning for a Sustainable Future, Mercer Union, Mixed Company Theatre, Power Unit Youth Organization, Self-Help Resource Centre, Urban Alliance on Race Relations, WWF Canada and Youth Without Shelter.

With nearly 60 volunteers and non-profit leaders gathered at MaRS Centre, the Scope-A-Thon kicked off with an introduction to pro bono, increasing participants’ awareness of benefits and common pitfalls. The workshop examined pro bono readiness from three perspectives – organizational readiness, volunteer readiness and project readiness – with real-life examples of what can happen when readiness criteria are not met. Participants also shared their own pro bono experiences – what went well, what didn’t go well, and advice and best practices to minimize the risk of running into common pro bono pitfalls.

Using tools and resources provided by Endeavour, volunteer teams worked with their non-profit partners for more than two hours to understand and frame the problem, brainstorm and identify solutions, and develop a clear and realistic project scope for a future pro bono consulting engagement. Participants were also provided with pro bono resources so they can either access or offer pro bono help.

Nine non-profits and more than fifty professionals better prepared for pro bono

A plenary at the end of the workshop provided the opportunity for participants to share learnings and experiences, highlighting the impact that the four-hour workshop had on their awareness and readiness for pro bono. One non-profit organization acknowledged that the Scope-A-Thon made them realize that they are not yet ready for pro bono. They knew that change was needed, but the leadership team was not clear on and in agreement about the change required. “The scoping experience forced us to commit to asking ourselves difficult questions” said the Artistic Producer of b current, a culturally diverse performance arts theatre in Toronto.

Some non-profit participants came out of the session with a different problem definition and solution than what they had walked in with. “The Scope-A-Thon pushed us to understand the root of our problems” said a board member from Mercer Union, an artist-run centre for contemporary art in Toronto. One non-profit participant, for example, asked for help in operating more efficiently but as the workshop progressed, realized that volunteer burnout was the underlying problem and succession planning was a higher priority.

“A key takeaway was looking at how we can be more innovative” said the Executive Director of Self-Help Resource Centre. Non-profit participants also came out of the exercise with a more well-defined problem and clearer pro bono project scope, with greater prioritization and focus. The most recent pro bono project applications submitted by Scope-A-Thon participants to Endeavour clearly reflected this outcome.

Stephanie Lawrance, a Senior Consultant who participated with colleagues from the Advisory and Audit practices at KPMG Canada, described the experience of many volunteers who are first introduced to pro bono through Endeavour. “Endeavour’s Scope-A-Thon was my first introduction to skills-based volunteering and immediately convinced me that this is the type of meaningful volunteer opportunity I have been seeking for some time now” said Lawrance. “Endeavour provided the opportunity and the basic framework the participants needed to consider what we need to personally do to engage in successful pro bono work. The structured conversations between the not-for-profit and volunteers brought about new ways of considering challenges and solutions. And now, after this event, there are 50 other individuals like me more interested and better equipped to seek out and succeed at pro bono engagements.”

Vanyely Saavedra, an International Associate at Scotiabank, echoed similar sentiments “I had a great experience providing my professional advice. It gave me the opportunity to learn about my ability to advise others.”

Endeavour’s survey results also show that the Scope-A-Thon contributed to results that are valuable to business, including increased team building amongst colleagues and improved skills and knowledge relevant to one’s career.

HP among growing group of corporate leaders making a commitment to pro bono

Having held Scope-A-Thons in partnership with Taproot Foundation in the US, HP recognized the opportunity for its Canadian employees and non-profit partners to get a flavour of pro bono with the launch of Endeavour’s Scope-A-Thon in Canada. After collaborating with Endeavour to engage HP employees and non-profit partners in the Scope-A-Thon, Frances Edmonds, Director of Environmental Programs who oversees volunteer programs for HP Canada, gained a new perspective on pro bono. “Endeavour’s Scope-A-Thon was an eye opening experience. Literally opening up a world of possibilities” said Edmonds.

Similarly, HP’s non-profit partners walked away from the Scope-A-Thon more knowledgeable and ready to access and benefit from pro bono. “We came into the Scope-A-Thon workshop with an open mind, and very little information about pro bono, and the benefits to a non-profit organization like Youth Without Shelter. The experience was an eye opener” said Ben Omoregie, Operations Manager at Youth Without Shelter. “We had the opportunity to brainstorm ideas that would strengthen our operations and enhance our service delivery. The advisory team from Endeavour and our partner, HP volunteers, gave excellent feedback during the session. Collectively we were able to identify key areas to work on regarding programming space. For example, getting started with a proposal, buy-in from all stakeholders, and setting a target date for implementation with short and long term options. At the end of it all, we left the workshop well equipped with very important information.”

Tiffany Chen, an Account Manager at HP, added “The Scope-A-Thon workshop was such a rewarding experience. I learned a lot of great tips on how to avoid pitfalls when doing pro bono consulting and we got hands-on experience working with Youth Without Shelter to develop a future pro bono project. We were able to discuss and work through some of their core issues and identify solutions to ensure an appropriate scope for their project. The members of Youth Without Shelter were inspiring because you can see the passion they put into their work every day even through various constraints.”

For companies looking to get a taste of pro bono without a time intensive commitment, the Scope-A-Thon is a good option. Endeavour also partners with companies on other pro bono programs that range from a day to a few months, including the Done-in-a-Day with Capital One and six-month pro bono engagements with AstraZeneca. Regardless of the program, Endeavour works to ensure that volunteers and non-profit organizations are ready for pro bono success.

To learn more about Endeavour’s corporate programs, contact Andrea Wong at probono@endeavourvolunteer.ca. To learn more about Endeavour’s pro bono opportunities for non-profits and volunteers in the community, visit www.endeavourvolunteer.ca

Scope-A-Thon Photos

Click here for Endeavour’s Scope-A-Thon photo album

Click here for Twitter feeds and photos from the Scope-A-Thon

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