A roadmap for successful pro bono partnerships that make a difference

Image provided by Free Association.

Image credit: Free Association.

When done right, providing in-kind services for nonprofit organizations has the potential to be even more impactful than traditional sponsorships. The key is to ensure all the companies involved really do make a difference in this world.

Within the technology industry, the barriers to delivering truly valuable services can be high. While the landscape is filled with honest attempts at in-kind donations that fail to materially create impact, many projects are never even seen all the way through.

However, through Adobe’s recent collaboration with product design agency Free Association and development agency Angle, the three companies successfully supported BRIDGEGOOD, a San Francisco Bay Area nonprofit focused on providing equitable access to technology careers, especially in the field of digital design. The organization shares Adobe’s commitment to ‘Creativity for All’ and offers robust design training, knowledge, and experience to underrepresented communities in the industry, predominantly Black, Indigenous, women, and people of color.

Together, Adobe, Free Association, Angle, and BRIDGEGOOD have built a lasting and fruitful pro bono partnership by adhering to a set of shared core principles. Follow in their footsteps with these tips and you, too, can provide effective in-kind partnerships to make a real difference.

1. Align services to the mission

The ideal pro bono relationship is built around close alignment of the missions of all the partner organizations involved.

To avoid disappointing outcomes, take time to first identify the core values of your company and how they align with the core ethos of a particular nonprofit. Similarly, it’s essential for nonprofits to find partners that align with their mission.

In the case of BRIDGEGOOD, the teams at Adobe, Free Association, as well as Angle found that BRIDGEGOOD’s mission of increasing diversity and training the designers of the future mapped well with their own role in the industry. All the volunteer organizations focus their efforts on mentorships to empower designers to enter technology roles that might not have been previously available.

BRIDGEGOOD resonated resoundingly across the teams because it posed an opportunity to make a difference at the root of designer education: inspiring young first-generation college students who are just entering the field to become leaders in their communities and designers of social good. It’s an initiative everyone could get behind and be passionate about. The immediate investment was contagious and spread through the whole project.

Such tight service-to-mission alignment creates a runway for a long-term partnership. All four organizations, in this case, adopted a collective mindset of growing together.

2. Choose projects that scale the vision

The optimal type of in-kind donation helps an organization scale its mission and vision. A great place to start is to identify aspects of the nonprofit’s operations that are manual or time consuming. Companies donating services can pursue projects and solutions that free up resources to focus on the most impactful work.

In the case of BRIDGEGOOD, the three partner organizations analyzed how the nonprofit could reach more students, or provide more hands-on experience. BRIDGEGOOD depends on volunteers to mentor students (by helping them network, meet and learn from designers in the field), instruct classes, judge student projects, and more. To date, these volunteers are registered and onboarded with BRIDGEGOOD in a time-consuming and manual fashion. The team instead could better spend important time and resources recruiting and communicating with potential designers to fill mentor needs.

Image provided by Free Association.

Image credit: Free Association.

Free Association and Angle designed and built a new self-service registration portal where potential mentors can easily volunteer to join BRIDGEGOOD programs. The application collects relevant information to help the organization place volunteers appropriately, build excitement around the mentorship opportunities, and save time for BRIDGEGOOD staff. Additionally, the registration can be embedded within partner companies to encourage entire organizations to sign up at once.

The new mentor registration application was chosen specifically for its potential to scale and amplify BRIDGEGOOD’s impact potential and growth.

3. Encourage employee participation

Great pro bono partnerships create opportunities that let employees within volunteer organizations actively give back personally and professionally.

In addition to providing services that scale the organization’s impact, professional designers at both Free Association and Adobe serve as instructors and mentors in the programs.

The engagement is extremely rewarding. Employees are excited to share their skills and expertise with the next generation of designers. It doesn’t even have to be a big lift, just being open and helping aspiring designers with their interests adds tremendous value to the project and organization. As a result, BRIDGEGOOD students are obtaining real-world insight into the world of professional design, and enjoy hands-on learning with professional industry tools via Adobe Creative Cloud.

4. Enroll other partners

With strong foundations to the pro bono relationship in place, volunteer organizations can authentically enroll other companies, vendors, and collaborators from their industry, scaling the impact further.

For example, Adobe has a long-standing relationship with BRIDGEGOOD dating back to 2018 providing design mentorship, hosting professional development events, partnering to educate thousands of Bay Area youth, and hiring BRIDGEGOOD graduates.

“BRIDGEGOOD was able to not only teach UX design but also connect me with designers who gave me amazing advice and feedback,” said Julie Truong, former BRIDGEGOOD graduate, now at Adobe. “These are the same designers that I now work with on the same team, which is so surreal to me!”

Through continual discussions with BRIDGEGOOD executive director Shaun Tai and his team, the team uncovered the need to help make it easier for them to onboard volunteers — designers from Silicon Valley interested in making a difference with BRIDGEGOOD. This is when Adobe turned to its partners at Free Association and the inspiration has snowballed ever since.

Image provided by Free Association.

Image credit: Free Association.

Angle then joined Adobe and Free Association to build a modular and scalable registration application with long-term growth in mind. The platform is intended to grow and scale with BRIDGEGOOD, so they can ultimately continue delivering on their mission and reach more members. BRIDGEGOOD students designed an internal React library to integrate other BRIDGEGOOD properties with ultimate flexibility.

Just like Adobe and Free Association, Angle was a perfect fit because once again their mission closely aligned with BRIDGEGOOD’s. Plus, they had just the right skill set, so the team could lean into their unique capabilities and passions to take the project to the next level.

The many ways Free Association, Angle, and Adobe are now effectively supporting BRIDGEGOOD include: mentoring students, sharing job opportunities, building custom software, and promoting the program in the industry. All these services directly support the BRIDGEGOOD mission beyond basic operations.

Seeing students take their first step into design has been extremely fulfilling to watch from all parties involved. Supporting them early on means we can set them on the right path from the beginning, fostering a next generation of uniquely skilled designers from diverse backgrounds.

Doing good for others is contagious, and the in-kind collaboration of BRIDGEGOOD, Adobe, Free Association, and Angle has proven that creativity can, and is positively changing the world.

Want to help diversify design? Check out the new app from BRIDGEGOOD that connects underserved students with professionals in the design industry. After registering, you’ll receive notifications whenever there are mentorship opportunities aligned with your skills, experience, and interests. Whether you’re able to participate a lot or just a little, collectively it all ends up making a huge difference.