Effective Strategies for Launching High-Impact Pro Bono Initiatives in Your Own Backyard

Giving employees the opportunity to share their talent increases their performance and loyalty. According to a 2015 Cone Communications study, 84 percent of global consumers say they seek out responsible products whenever possible. A report by NYU and Imperative showed that “purpose-oriented employees” remain with employers 20 percent longer and are 47 percent more likely to actively promote the companies they work for.

Adobe and other companies are making a difference in communities while remaining true to their brand and business objectives. This means identifying strategic partnerships with local organizations, creating a framework for working with nonprofits, and effectively measuring the progress of local pro bono projects, which focus on connecting employee skills with nonprofit needs. Here’s how your company can forge strong partnerships to maximize its social impact and increase employee retention.

Getting started with pro bono initiatives

Kendra Ott, senior consultant for advisory services at Taproot Foundation, an organization that connect companies with skilled volunteers for pro bono services, says businesses need to first determine their goals.

“The most important piece of building a pro bono program starts with really asking great questions,” she says. “Companies need to consider how they can use their goals and assets and specific context to really make the greatest impact.”

Balancing social impact initiatives with a company’s business objectives takes a lot of foresight and planning. Kendra suggests companies consider three critical questions during this planning phase:

By getting a firm grasp on the answers to these questions, you can avoid pursuing opportunities that don’t actually fit your organization.

Executing effectively

However, even with adequate preparation, the biggest challenge for companies is often execution. Kim Kerry-Tyerman, who manages Adobe’s Pro Bono initiatives, says it’s critical to start small.

“Start with baby steps and test your assumptions,” she says. “Take the time to figure out the core benefits of doing a pro bono program depending on your company’s objectives.”

Strategic partnerships also can set companies on the path to success. Organizations like Taproot Foundation can help a company find local opportunities in need of their particular business expertise.

Another good way to get started is to build on best practices from companies that are already successful in the social impact space. Kendra suggests meeting with leaders from like-minded companies.

“You don’t have to recreate the wheel,” she says. “There are examples of high-impact corporate pro bono out there. Look at those examples and learn from them or set up a meeting with their employee engagement manager. You can accelerate your path to running a successful pro bono program by talking to others.”

Smart partnering will focus on areas of impact that involve the business’s strengths and address societal needs at the same time. Once you identify an opportunity, take the time to develop creative solutions that draw on the capabilities of both parties.

Pro bono at Adobe

We launched our pro bono efforts in 2012 with four pilot projects. Since that time, the program has grown to 50 projects a year. Again and again, employees report increased satisfaction with their jobs and with Adobe after participating in the program — and 100 percent of employees would recommend pro bono to a colleague.

“As a tech company that targets creatives, our projects naturally point in that direction. Two examples are our work with Team4Tech and Digital Divide Data,” says Kim. “With Team4Tech, Adobe sends 10 employees to a developing country for two weeks. While there, they educate schools about how to leverage technology and design for more effective teaching.”

Digital Divide Data is a social enterprise in Cambodia that supports individuals in impoverished communities by providing technology training to help them improve their standard of living. Some of the programs the organization uses to train community members are Adobe Photoshop and InDesign, so the pro bono team built an entire training curriculum to teach basic and intermediate skills using these programs, helping the nonprofit with its mission to improve lives.

Reaping rewards

As Adobe’s pro bono efforts illustrate, these initiatives connect employees with a purpose, increasing their engagement in the workplace while raising the brand’s visibility as a company committed to creating a meaningful social impact.

“We encourage all employees to do pro bono work because it’s an effective use of volunteer time for our nonprofit partners, and it’s a great way for everyone to feel rewarded, personally and professionally,” Kim says.

According to the NYU and Imperative report, only 30 percent of the U.S. workforce reports being actively involved, enthusiastic, and committed to their work, but pro bono opportunities can boost engagement. Kendra receives this kind of feedback all the time.

“I’ve heard from employees that say their pro bono project was the most interesting thing they got to work on that year,” Kendra says.

Kim says she’s heard the same from Adobe employees, too. “Some have even said that their pro bono project was the highlight of their career,” Kim shares. “So we know that it’s providing a really positive experience. Employees get to develop new skills, and they feel really good about working for a company that prioritizes community involvement.”

Social impact initiatives can make work more meaningful by connecting it to a larger purpose, thereby increasing employee buy-in. Most importantly, pro bono initiatives help companies go beyond talking about their brand — to demonstrating the value of their brand, generating more employee engagement, and improving the brand’s reputation in the process.

Looking to the future

Many executives, customers, and employees — and society as a whole — are placing increasing importance on a brand’s impact beyond the products and services they deliver. Companies with the most effective social impact strategies will align making a positive impact with their brand promise and their business goals.

For more about Adobe’s Pro Bono Initiative, visit here.