Sarah Ford | November 20, 2014

Connecting Business Talent to Nonprofit Need, Pro Bono Style

By Robert B. Acton

A year and a half ago, the two of us sat together in a diner in Queens, New York – just across the Hudson River from Manhattan – imagining over cups of coffee what a robust and impactful pro bono and skill-based volunteer marketplace in our region would look like.

What would happen if we brought together – in one place, on one day – New York City’s nonprofit leaders, skilled professionals eager to donate their talents, pro bono intermediary organizations, and the philanthropic and corporate communities?  We believed that such a gathering had the potential to jumpstart a pro bono marketplace worthy of our great city. Out of these conversations, Pro Bono Day NYC: Connecting Passion to Purpose was born.

This year’s event was held on Thursday, October 23, 2014 during Pro Bono Week, an international week of pro bono awareness-raising and celebration established by the American Bar Association in 2009. Throughout the day, 500 participants attended eight learning and networking events taking place at six venues around the city. In fact, within days of becoming available, all tickets were claimed by professionals eager to be a part of this special day.

We believed this day was needed for one very important reason.  You see, the biggest challenge in building a pro bono marketplace is not finding sufficient professionals willing to offer their skills – New York City is full of talent across the full range of business functions. Nor is the biggest challenge finding nonprofit organizations with infrastructure needs – this sector is asked to do the impossible every day, addressing our city’s most critical needs, with very limited resources.  The greatest challenge is found in bringing these two groups together: helping great talent connect to nonprofit need on high-impact pro bono consulting projects.

It is this reality that led the Citi Foundation to support – and Taproot Foundation to convene – Pro Bono Day NYC.  Partnering with nine pro bono intermediary organizations, the day’s events were designed to lower barriers to entry for nonprofits facing needs in marketing and communications, technology, strategy management, leadership development, human resources, and the like.

Our goal is to ensure that New York City nonprofits have access to skilled business professionals who are motivated and able to solve organizational challenges, at no cost. Several institutions in the city including Google, American Express, the Foundation Center and the Center for Social Innovation, joined us as event hosts.  

While we learned a great deal from the day, three things in particular stood out:

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