The Sad Truth About Pro Bono Volunteers

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pro bono voluntersIn his book Cognitive Surplus, internet expert Clay Shirkey shares an inspired view of the digital age, where our online connections make it even easier to pool energy and talent for the greater good.  This could include pro bono volunteers.

But, has this dream come to fruition? Have connections been made between professionals with specialized skills and volunteer opportunities to the greatest extent possible?

There have certainly been investments in skills-based volunteering and the pro bono volunteering concept — consider the Billion + Change campaign that has reportedly generated over $5B in pro bono services for nonprofits.

But, there have also been those critical of so-called “skilled volunteering,” including Meredith Swift’s most recent commentary and Rob Jackson’s critique of the terminology.

But, what about the professionals who want to give time and talent in their field of expertise? According to LinkedIn for Good, over 4 million professionals have indicated they want to contribute their skills to social good. Most are Millenials.

Is there a place at the table for them?

Data below from the Taproot Foundation demonstrates a serious gap in use versus need of pro bono and note that “While the supply of pro bono services and programs is rapidly growing, the need in the nonprofit sector remains significant.”

pro bono volunteersBarriers to Pro Bono Volunteers

In a 2011 unpublished study, Taproot reports that the biggest barriers for nonprofits:

  • 73% would seek more pro bono help if they could better translate organizational challenges into specific projects
  • 65% don’t know where to find high-quality pro bono resources
  • 58% need timeline management
  • 42% need project scoping
  • 26% don’t think they have staff expertise to manage pro bono

All solvable issues, no?

In a sector that is in sore need of resources and greater capacity to meet our missions, volunteer-involving organizations may be passing up the ripe opportunities right in front of their eyes.

What’s tragic about pro bono volunteering? Not enough organizations take advantage of it.

  • http://volunteerplaintalk.com/ Meridian Swift

    Hi and thank you for referencing my post about requests for skilled volunteering. I can’t speak for Rob, but I think that volunteers who offer pro bono services are widely welcomed by any volunteer manager. It’s the “just get a skilled volunteer” request that is fraught with pitfalls, because the request can imply a simple solution to the complex process of engaging volunteers. As always, clear communication between organization and volunteer, and requester and volunteer manager is key.

    • Tobi Johnson

      @meridianswift:disqus — Absolutely! I’m hoping organizations will recognize and will be willing to invest the time and effort required to successfully engage supporters with specialized talents, no matter what we label this kind of service. It feels like a familiar conundrum, doesn’t it? Agencies still don’t understand the sophisticated work necessary to successfully engage the community, regardless of volunteer role. So much good will is still left on the table.