Pro Bono Service - Just works!

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When the iPad was released in 2010, the world knew: Tablet computing had arrived.

Before then, there were just too many problems with tablets… limited battery life, overheating, slow processing speed, and awkward interfaces. The iPad fixed those problems, creating a pleasant user experience. It just worked.

For nonprofit leaders, using skilled volunteers to help build organizational capacity used to be similarly riddled with problems. Finding the right volunteer was difficult. Scoping and managing projects was complicated and time-consuming. Meanwhile, paid consultants were often too costly.

But that has changed. Today, online platforms like Taproot+, NPower, and Public Architecture’s 1% Program are simplifying the user experience, making pro bono projects “just work” in ways they didn’t before.

Just as the iPad experienced rapid adoption, so too have these platforms. As one example, Taproot+, launched less than a year ago by the Taproot Foundation, has already delivered more than $1.7 million worth of professional services to nonprofits.

How does it work? The Taproot+ platform allows nonprofit organizations—free of charge—to access marketing, IT, design, HR, finance, and strategy professionals any time, any place. Nonprofits post a need on the site, speak with skilled professionals and pick the expert that works best for them. Then, they work together either in-person or virtually for 6-8 weeks with ongoing access to Taproot tools and support. The user experience breakthroughs reported by nonprofits include the ease of use, the screening process, and the project guidance each step of the way.

Dr. LeRoy Boikai is a recent user of Taproot+. LeRoy is President of the Village Improvement Project, Inc. (VIP), an Ohio-headquartered nonprofit that works to enhance the quality of life for village communities in rural Liberia.

To help increase VIP’s social media effectiveness, LeRoy used Taproot+ to secure the services of Shamus Ozmen, a Washington D.C.-based communications expert with over 15 years of professional experience. In speaking with LeRoy and Shamus, we wanted to know: what about the Taproot+ experience was a real breakthrough for them? Three insights emerged.

Insight #1: A Concentrated Project Timeline Creates Energy and Urgency

For the skilled volunteer, 4-8 weeks—the typical project duration—feels manageable and efficient. “[Taproot+ projects are] a great way to do excellent work in a really bite-sized timeframe that is doable but also quickly rewarding,” said Shamus.

This narrow timeframe also energizes the nonprofit, which skilled volunteers appreciate. “I felt very excited to work with people who were coming to the table with a burst of energy and with a goal-oriented mindset that welcomes input,” said Shamus.

For the nonprofit leader, the project timeframe tends to bring about a focus and urgency that produces results. “In two short weeks, VIP has quadrupled its social media activities,” said LeRoy.

Insight #2: Taproot’s Guidance Helps Projects Succeed

Taproot has been connecting nonprofits with pro bono support since 2001 and has the tips and tricks to help save time and ensure that projects run smoothly. “What is even just as valuable [as the volunteer] is the quality of support and wrap-around services that Taproot+ provides,” said LeRoy. “Taproot staff follows up regularly to find out the status of the project with an eye to stepping in, if needed, to help the project be successful.”

Knowing that Taproot will be there to screen and guide nonprofits also gives skilled volunteers confidence in the process. “I never have to worry about getting quality projects,” said Shamus. As a result, Taproot+ has been able to recruit a large pool of skilled volunteers—over 1,800 and growing—for nonprofits to access.

Insight #3: A Well-Matched Volunteer Can Become a Great Long-Term Ally

Shamus’ project helped her to connect deeply with VIP’s mission. “I got to appreciate their specific goals and the incredible causes that they were fighting for. To see their causes flourish…is really amazing,” she said.

Indeed, many pro bono consultants become long-term supporters of their nonprofit clients. “Instead of volunteering ad-hoc or here and there, with very loose relationships that don’t tend to last too long, with Taproot, I’ve made relationships that are forever-lasting and forever valuable… I’d be excited to help [VIP] if they came up with another chunk of work, since I learned so much,” said Shamus.

Meanwhile, a Taproot+ project can introduce nonprofits to getting things accomplished with pro bono resources. LeRoy’s experience has led him to return to Taproot+ multiple times for pro bono help. “I truly can't say how effective our organization would be in… fulfilling its mission without the help of the highly skilled volunteers that Taproot+ has provided.”

Breakthrough Technology

Within five years of the iPad being released, over 500 million tablets were in use worldwide, helping people to work more efficiently and do things they never did before. Why? Because Apple found a way to fix nagging problems, creating a positive user experience. To users, the product “just worked.”

Similarly, within a year of Taproot+'s launch, over 700 nonprofits across the country—many of them new to using pro bono services—have posted and completed a project with their chosen skilled volunteer. Its ease of use and ability to provide pro bono service to a wide range of nonprofits in terms of size, issue area, geographic location, and experience using pro bono, makes Taproot+ one of the fastest growing platforms for nonprofits to find the pro bono service they need.

10 minutes is all it takes to post a project need on Taproot+ and start tapping into the passion and talent of a growing pool of over 1,800 active skilled volunteers ready tackle, create, and deliver. How might you take advantage of pro bono programs to grow your organization?

Taproot+ was developed by the Taproot Foundation, a national nonprofit that connects nonprofits and social change organizations with skilled volunteers through pro bono service. 

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