November 18, 2009

It’s not all about profits: “do it pro bono” with the Taproot Foundation, the nonprofit intermediary

Ever since I remember, I’d wanted to work with nonprofits to give back to the society I live in, or for a cause I care for, in an effective productive way. The problem was I never knew how to go about it. Were they going to make me stuff envelopes or answer incoming calls? (Get real, I’d never do that! – sorry, is that snobby?). Did they understand in what capacity I could help them? Did I get what they needed? Throughout my adult life I’ve worked with “for profit” entities and the concept of “nonprofit” was very foreign to me. So I always put it off and wrote checks here and there to various organizations I cared about (or to get the telemarketing folks out of my hair).

Enter the Taproot Foundation.

The minute I understood what they do, I knew I wanted to be involved. The Taproot Foundation was founded in 2001 by Aaron Hurst, the grandson of the man who wrote the original blueprint for the Peace Corp. He developed the organization as a “nonprofit intermediary”. Through a very structured process, they vet nonprofits that need high level professional help, and match them up with selected pro bono consultants, removing the matchmaking headache from the equation. They also provide highly structured processes for the consultant teams to follow resulting in very consistent outcome. They really did their homework on this!

Economic downturns hit nonprofits the hardest. Even in good times, nonprofits tend to lack strategic focus. According to studies done by Taproot Foundation, 200,000 nonprofits face significant strategic management challenges, more than half have no strategic plan, and 95% of them say their social impact would grow with pro bono support. Taproot Foundation estimates that pro bono consultants can contribute the equivalent of $1.5 billion annually to nonprofits in the US alone. This is more than the total annual combined giving of the 20 top corporate foundations, and can fundamentally change the way nonprofits operate all over the country.

The foundation started in San Francisco, and has expanded to New York City, Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles, and Washington DC (I keep thinking there were a couple of more cities - they're expanding fast so I can't remember). The current services include project management, creative services, marketing, HR, IT, and strategic management. I met Aaron Hurst recently and he plans to expand rapidly.

I started my first volunteer service grant with them recently as a brand strategist for a local nonprofit, I was in for a pleasant surprise. Here I am sitting with a bunch of PhD’s who are trying to fix our water problems but have very little concept of positioning or branding (I made the mistake of comparing their model to B2B and the result was a roomful of blank stares – nice job, Kat!).

So here’s the bottom line. If you’ve thought about being involved with nonprofits, but can’t figure it out, Taproot Foundation might be the answer for you. The work is really rewarding, the nonprofit people are passionate about the society we live in, and there’s something refreshing about not having to talk about revenues and profits all the time.

Here are a few reasons I can think of to get involved:

It feels good to give. It just does. If you care, just do it. It doesn’t take that much time.

You can’t give money but you can give time. Tough economic times are hitting everyone’s wallets. Also, if you’re unemployed, you may not be able to give money, but you can donate your time.

Good resume filler. Again, if you are “between jobs”, this is a great resume filler with solid professional work. Also gets you out of the house and keeps your mind busy.

Great networking. You’ll be in a professional environment doing professional work, networking with the nonprofit staff and other consultants. I’ve personally met some great people through this program.

Ego boost. Every little bit you do will be a lot for nonprofits. And they’re SO thankful for it.

Non profits really need help. Enough said.

The easiest way to get involved is to go on their website and register with your background information. Someone will contact you and take you through the process. If they’re not in your geographical area, put yourself in the queue anyway. I suspect they’ll hit all major geographical areas soon. They’re also open to suggestions, so don’t be shy.

Let me know if you do this. I’d love to hear about it.


  1. Nice. But I guess its only in USA right now.

  2. It's a great feeling to volunteer and you never know what rewards you will receive, even if it is just a good feeling!