Donations Are So 20th Century

Scott Lucas | May 23, 2013 | Story News and Features

When The Marine Mammal Center in Sausolito needed assistance, it turned to PG&E, but not for help in keeping the lights on. Instead, they asked out for assistance with their human resources. After all, who better to turn to than a company that employs over 20,000 people. It's all part of a new trend in how Corporate America helps Non-Profit America.

"We want to help companies unleash their skills and talents in service to the community," says Jennifer Lawson, the Executive Director of A Billion + Change, a national campaign to convince businesses to offer pro bono services to community non-profits, rather than simply making monetary donations (The name refers to their original goal of raising $1 billion in pro bono donations, a target they quickly surpassed). We spoke to her at the end of a half-day summit held at PG&E, which brought together more than 100 Bay Area businesses and other groups, including HP, Salesforce, SFMade, and the Taproot Foundation.

Lawson points to Oakland's Give Something Back Office Supplies as an example. "They realized that they're delivery trucks, once they made their deliveries, were coming back empty. So now they load them up with e-waste. It's an amazing virtuous circle, because they donate that to a group that provides job training by having people refurbish it." She also says that consulting giant Deloitte has figured out a way to help nonprofits—by offering its analytic services for free to help them figure out what they need to ask for. "Deloitte brings some expertise to that," she laughs.

The goal of the campaign is to sign up 500 corporations to pledge to do this kind of pro bono work. "We just want them to get a little taste of the Kool Aid. This is cool stuff," says Lawson. "The research shows that pro bono services are 500 times more valuable than traditional volunteering." The campaign is nearing its goal. After 18 months, they've just hit 400—on Tuesday, eBay joined up. They have projects in the works like helping the Grameen Foundation build mobile apps and Habitat for Humanity International improve its branding strategy. Not too bad for the price.

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