The Promise Of Pro Bono

We often say that nonprofits are not in business to make a profit. But they are in business. They have employees, clients, and vendors. They have marketing, finance, human resource, and technology needs. They often have complex operating structures. And they have business objectives that require business know-how in order to be met.

Simply stated, if a million people spend an hour volunteering in a traditional manner (i.e., serving food, stuffing envelopes, raking leaves, painting playground equipment, etc.), the monetary value of that time would equal $21 million, based on the current value of a volunteer hour, as estimated by The Independent Sector. But if a million people contributed specialized business skills and knowledge, the value to the community would be exponentially greater, based on the marketplace value for a professional's skills. In our experience, while traditional volunteering may serve the immediate needs of many nonprofits, contributions involving specialized business skills and knowledge provide unique opportunities to help nonprofits meet their long-term potential, which is why we have refocused a significant part of our community investment in this direction.

In February 2008, the Corporation for National and Community Service announced Billion + Change, a federal initiative to encourage American businesses to champion pro bono work by complementing their philanthropy with the contribution of in-kind services. While Deloitte had done ad hoc pro bono work for decades, we responded with a pledge to deliver $50 million in pro bono services by 2011. We're proud to have met the goal, and prouder still to have transformed the way we approach our commitment to the community in the process. We published a report about what we learned through the process and, as a member of the renewed Billion + Change leadership committee, think this is great opportunity to offer them up again for the benefit of others.

Every insight we gained stemmed from the one basic concept that propelled our commitment. Nonprofits are sophisticated organizations that often struggle under the weight of heavy expectations. They typically labor under a financial model that is dependent on the generosity of others, and that kindness often comes in the form of volunteer time. Time is valuable in and of itself, but what is done with that time really determines how much it is worth to a nonprofit.

In helping to lead the Billion + Change campaign, we hope to generate discussion and encourage others to contribute their skills and knowledge. Looking ahead, with more and more pro bono projects in the works, our initial Billion + Change commitment truly did change the way we do business when it comes to supporting the communities in which we live and serve.