How the Pandemic Has Changed Pro Bono

The pandemic pushed the social sector to make game-changing shifts in community programming, funding models and organizational leadership. Nonprofits that pivoted their programming in a matter of weeks now demand fast, targeted and immediate resources for infrastructure building. Skilled based volunteering has been the backbone of organizational capacity building supports for over two decades. As the social sector evolves rapidly, capacity-building efforts need to catch up and keep up, including the critical resource that is skills-based volunteering.

Previous disruptions to the social sector offer a roadmap for the necessary shift in focus and momentum. In the height of the 2008 recession, skills-based volunteering exploded across the corporate and nonprofit sectors. Unemployed and under-employed professionals sought every opportunity to keep their knowledge sharp, and companies began to build pro bono programs fueled by a recognition of the leadership benefits of this “new” type of volunteering. Meanwhile, nonprofits faced with the need to diversify programming and revenue models leveraged that surging interest to embark on organizational capacity projects.

The recession was the catalyst for an era of skills-based volunteering as a core component of large-scale infrastructure projects. The launch of the A Billion+ Change campaign drove hundreds of commitments of volunteer hours from the corporate community and enabled nonprofits to develop partnerships that engaged skilled volunteers in every area of organizational infrastructure.

Over the last 10+ years, nonprofits in every major metropolitan area have had the opportunity to leverage skills-based volunteers as a core capacity-building pillar. The recession pushed forward skilled volunteering as a unique way to meet need. Now, in 2021, the combination of the exacerbating nature of the pandemic with the long-overdue racial reckoning brings us to question whether the existing forms of skills-based volunteering are still the right fit for successful capacity building.

New Skills-Based Volunteering Models

As a diverse swath of organizations are looking for of infrastructure supports, skills-based models must be diversified to meet changing sector needs, just as they did in 2008. BIPOC-led organizations have seen a recent surge of donations and are pursuing ambitious organizational growth with the goal of translating that first time support into consistent contributions. The mandate, then, for sector leadership is to meet the moment and adapt volunteerism to support this type of organizational growth and sector change. The majority of BIPOC-led organizations have fewer staff and resources, and far more limited brand awareness. As such, we must redesign capacity-building programs to meet the stated and requested – as opposed to the assumed – need. Skills-based volunteering must demonstrate its versatility and offer newly designed bite-sized support, easily and responsively implemented with fewer staff, and adapted to align with the culture and needs of the organizations leading the community change today. Newer models of skills-based volunteer programming combined with historic supports can meet organizations where they are and ensure infrastructure needs are meet across a spectrum of project types.

Skillset Diversification

Marketing, finance, strategy, and human resources remain constant organizational capacity building needs; but now is the moment to expand how companies consider what employee skillsets to leverage in skills-based programming as nonprofits expand their resource asks. Lean and agile technology, global strategy, growth and scale, mobile support, and supply chain are just a few of the critical areas emerging in the wake of the pandemic given social sector programmatic shifts.

Industry Growth

The impact of the pandemic on the social sector can drive advancements in skills-based volunteering programming. In addressing those needs, companies with existing skills-based programming, such as those in the financial services sector, but also from industries like consumer packaged goods, food & beverage, technology and unicorn companies, as well as the healthcare and logistics sectors should consider how skills-based volunteering can be a solution for retaining and recruiting employees in the face of the “Great Resignation.”

Increasing BIPOC Participation in Pro Bono

Skills-based volunteering is one of the most effective leadership development resources for BIPOC and non-traditional corporate and nonprofit professionals. While the pandemic resulted in a significant uptick in graduate school applicants, the majority of those attending graduate school in response to un-or-under employment are white mid-to-high income level Americans. Pro bono programs also offer an alternative pathway for professional development for BIPOC leaders. Volunteer opportunities create skill set and leadership development resources ensuring an increasingly diverse leadership pipeline in the corporate sector.

The global pandemic upended the social sector, forcing a spotlight on many of the systemic inequities long considered status quo. As we emerge from this period, it is imperative that we learn the lessons of the time and ensure that skills-based volunteering expands to support the needs and demands of the emerging post-pandemic social sector.