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Refining Corporate Philanthropy and Its Impact on Pro Bono

The Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP) is an international forum of more than 165 business CEOs and Chairs, including many leaders from the world’s largest companies, pursuing a mission to lead the business community in raising the level and quality of corporate philanthropy. Engaging with the public, private, and independent sectors, CECP members seek and create opportunities to serve as corporate giving advocates, practitioners, educators, and spokespersons to advance the case for philanthropy and to inspire other business leaders to make a lasting commitment to community giving.  In recent months, CECP has expanded its mission to include the promotion of non-legal “pro bono” at corporations.

In the Spring 2008 edition of CECP’s newsletter, The Corporate Philanthropist, several prominent authors – including Aaron Hurst, President and Founder, of the Taproot Foundation, Barry Salzberg, CEO, of Deloitte LLP, and Jean Case, CEO, The Case Foundation – persuasively describe the business benefits of encouraging highly-skilled employees to use those skills for the benefit of non-profits.  Aaron Hurst describes five indicators of good client/pro bono service, ten best practices in pro bono services, and three building blocks to enable corporate success in meeting the demand for quality pro bono work.  PBI’s Esther Lardent makes a persuasive case for the business benefits of corporate pro bono (see p. 10).  As Ms. Lardent points out, “when properly aligned with the institutions’ business goals, pro bono service attracts business value.”  The benefits of corporate pro bono service are wide-ranging.  There are human resources benefits, including recruitment of talented, engaged employees.  Engagement in corporate pro bono can also lead to better retention of those employees by increasing morale and teambuilding.  The professional development aspect of corporate pro bono can have the corollary benefits of recruitment and cost-effective training. There are also external benefits such as marketing, reputation, and networking. Corporate pro bono also develops stronger communities.

In a best practice profile, the newsletter contains a column by Barry Salzberg of Deloitte LLP and an analysis of Deloitte’s recent launch of a formal pro bono initiative.  Mr. Salzberg argues that community involvement is good for business.  Among the immediate benefits to be gained are: communication of a company’s values, recruitment, and marketing.  He also makes the apt point that success should be judged by the tangible results achieved.  The analysis of Deloitte’s recently-launched pro bono initiative touches on three key points that may be familiar to those who have developed legal pro bono programs: top-down support was solicited immediately, the program involved thoughtful planned development, and pro bono was built into Deloitte’s business model.

CECP is also involved in an ongoing effort to develop a definition and standard of pro bono service with the goal of supporting trend analysis and benchmarking.  On page 2 of The Corporate Philanthropist, the author notes that pro bono differs from skills-based volunteerism in that “pro bono services are rendered just as they would be for paying clients.”  While development of a standard is ongoing, three salient criteria have emerged: commitment – ensuring the timely and high-quality completion of the service; professional services – staff uses their core job skills to the benefit of the recipient; and indirect services – much pro bono service supports a non-profit’s capacity building or operations.  In the Lessons Learned article, the author notes three valuable take-aways: apply the same standards of corporate service; consider new applications for your products and services; and integrate your program with your business strategy.

The Corporate Philanthropist contains several valuable tips and take-aways.  One of the clearest points (see the Deloitte Best Practice article, page 4) is that the elements that create a well-crafted pro bono program are the same.  It is heartening to see a practice that has such a long tradition in the legal profession taking hold in the business world.  As companies realize the value of pro bono service – that it’s good for business – and seek to do business with others with shared values, such service can increase exponentially.


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