Pro Bono Volunteer Challenges

There is nothing inherently new about volunteers donating professional expertise to “strengthen the management capacity” of nonprofits. It can be enormously helpful for a nonprofit to have access to the donated time of experts in everything from the law to marketing to purchasing. On the surface, this all seems ideal and simple. In practice, however, it takes some work to assure success.

To veterans of the nonprofit world, the obvious premise of the push to facilitate pro bono volunteering is the age-old assumption that agencies are best managed when “operating like a business.” This attitude comes along with the assumption that the do-gooder types in nonprofits obviously lack business skills and so anyone from a corporation -- by definition -- can put an agency on the right track. Leaving aside the reasonable observation that the current economic woes came largely from poorly-led big business, this debate continues.

Accepting that the corporate volunteers seeking to donate their time and talent do indeed have skills valuable to a nonprofit, there remain a number of other assumptions to confront, among them:

* That business expertise can automatically be transferred to the nonprofit environment.

* That all people in business know how to consult, as opposed to do or direct.

* That businesses and nonprofits speak the same language. David Warshaw, founder of Vistas Volunteer Management Solutions has crystallized this problem as “Companies Are from Mars; Nonprofits Are from Venus.” Both have a world-view that might not be shared by the other, or even approved or wanted.

Non-Profit Times

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