Agencies That Give Also Receive

By | April 2, 2012
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“Nearly two-thirds of Gen Y employees say they would prefer to work for an organization that provides opportunities to volunteer their skills.”FastCompany

Heart HandsHigh-quality talent is the glue that holds your agency together. Yet, today’s digital talent gap makes recruitment and retention harder than ever before, as qualified candidates are difficult to come by. To attract and retain A-players, agencies must create an engaging environment in which people feel like they are contributing to a greater good and participating in truly exciting, fulfilling work.

As an agency, giving back to the community is one way to foster these feelings of contentment, while simultaneously opening up employee training, advancement and networking opportunities. For example, in addition to being part of a really cool social cause, often times nonprofits let you experiment and expand your skill sets in ways corporations may not.

Interested in creating a corporate giving or nonprofit program at your agency? Here are some tips for getting started based on Taproot Foundation’s Blueprint for Pro Bono Program Development.

1. Establish Goals and Identify Needs

Like any other business plan or strategy, first start by identifying what you are trying to achieve as an organization and why you are interested in getting involved. In addition to the positive feeling you get from doing something good, some business considerations include:  

  • Employee recruitment and retention
  • Professional development opportunities
  • The ability to try out new services or strategies
  • Network and referral building
  • Greater community involvement

You’ll also want to consider how a formal program will affect the agency’s financials and resources. For example: Do you have the flexibility to offer free or discounted services? Is your staff already stretched to capacity? How can you maximize impact without drawing too heavily on internal resources? Etc.

From here, align your goals with the needs of the community. Hold focus groups, talk with local nonprofits, conduct surveys, etc. This will give you a good feel for what common challenges nonprofits are facing and what types of agency programs would be well received to help.

2. Determine the Right Model

Based on your goals, company culture, available resources and community needs, determine the best program model for your unique needs. The Taproot Foundation offers eight proven models to consider in Making Pro Bono Work:

  • Loaned employee—Employees are granted a leave of absence to complete work. 
  • Coaching and mentorship—Employees pair up with nonprofits to share expertise and offer guidance in a mentoring relationship.
  • Marathon—Resources are pooled together for a short period of time (24-48 hours) to complete a mass amount of work, quickly.
  • Standardized team projects—Services that are uniformly needed by numerous nonprofits are identified, scoped and offered to the masses.
  • Open-ended outsourcing—Services are provided to select nonprofits ongoing, on an as needed basis.
  • Sector-wide solutions—One deliverable is created that can be used and accessed by multiple nonprofits, for example a webinar training session.
  • General contracting—The company acts as a project manager to facilitate large-scale activities that involve multiple companies and organizations.
  • Signature issue—One cause is selected (e.g. youth education) and numerous programs and models are used to support its advancement. 

Keep in mind that while Taproot identifies these models as pro bono, many of them could be achieved based on a paid relationship as well.

In the SXSW presentation, What’s Good for the Agency is Good for the World, Carl Panczak (@cpanczak), CEO at Reactive, explained that there is often a misconception that nonprofit organizations don’t have the funds to pay agencies. In fact, Panczak advocates for paid services—albeit maybe at a discount—as a financial agreement ensures that the agency puts the same amount of time and rigor into the relationship as it does with other paying clients.

3. Start Small

Drawing from lean startup principles, it’s best to create a small-scale program and put it into the market for testing and feedback. Instead of wasting months building out every aspect of a program that may end up flopping, select a few projects and employees, and get something out in the market to evaluate and evolve. 

4. Measure and Evolve

Measure the pilot program’s success against the goals you established at the start. Document what is and is not working, and tweak your strategy and approach from there. Does the time and money invested in the program return the social ROI you were expecting? How can results be improved? 

How Are you Making an Impact?

What programs and policies have you put in place to encourage community and nonprofit involvement? What success have you seen? What challenges have you faced? Share your experiences below. 

Image Source: KrystalT