Why we offer our consulting services pro bono and what we learned from our first experience.
Why give away services for free?
It’s a valid question with a simple answer: we want to do the most good we can for nonprofits and charitable organizations in our community. Doing the MOST good means extending beyond the scope of conventional volunteering, which includes activities such as park cleanups, toy drives, and food kitchen assistance. Our company has done and will continue to do these things, but this year, for the first time, we expanded our scope to include skills-based volunteering, a category under which pro bono consulting falls.
Skills-based volunteering is the donation of one’s time using a specialized skill, and it is one of the most valuable donations a non-profit can receive.
According to this Forbes article, the average per-hour value of pro bono service is $150, while conventional volunteer time is valued at $23.07. Through skills-based volunteering, nonprofits with big dreams and few resources can utilize expensive talent they wouldn’t otherwise have access to, and leverage that knowledge and experience to scale their business.
At The Spur Group, we have decades of experience in marketing, sales optimization, people & project management, and time-to-market acceleration. We are poised to enhance nonprofit businesses through skills-based volunteering, and at the start of 2018, we felt a corporate responsibility to do so.
What we did
On June 28, we completed our first pro bono engagement with a fantastic nonprofit called Key to Change, which provides young musicians in South King County with violin lessons and other educational resources in order for them to thrive as violinists and individuals. The organization was recommended to us by our very own Keith Thomas, who has been volunteering with them since the beginning of 2018. They fit our value criteria – they are local, educate children (which is something our staff had a desire to focus on this year), empower people to support themselves, and are just starting their business, which means our donation would have a significant impact.
The Spur Group created a messaging framework for Key to Change. A messaging framework is a document that solidifies tone and provides sample text for marketing materials.
It provides an opportunity for organizations and companies to really think about their message and serves as a “guiding light” for future communications.
In addition, we edited and redesigned their strategic plan, a document that outlines Key to Change’s objectives and tactics for the next three years.
We staffed the project like we would any other – with a manager, senior manager, and consultants – who had regular meetings with Key to Change’s founder Quinton Morris. Our volunteers donated 5hrs/week to the engagement on top of their 40-45hrs/week of paid client work. When The Spur Group’s Community Service and Giving (Spurvice) team called for volunteers, we were slightly apprehensive about the response we would get because of peoples’ already busy lives. However, we got close to 3x the number of volunteers we needed, and I couldn’t have been prouder of my peers.
What we learned
Working with a non-profit organization demanded a rethink of our processes and deliverables. The engagement began with a series of discovery meetings to learn about Key to Change’s purpose and objectives, challenges, and needs. Using that information, we proposed a list of deliverables intended to meet their upcoming goals, which were to build capacity by onboarding more students and secure additional scholarship funding. The Spur Group and Key to Change aligned on building a messaging framework that could be used by staff and board members to communicate with students, teachers, and parents and guardians.
During the initial creative brief, Key to Change shared that their marketing collateral must convey the values of trust and connection. This guided the voice and tone of the messaging as well as the look and feel of the messaging framework itself. As a result, the final version of the framework is closer in look and feel to a BDM (Business Decision Maker) presentation deck, and functions both as an internal and external document. This gives Key to Change the ability to leverage the document for a wider variety of uses, including sharing the story and value of Key to Change to donors.
It was important to stay flexible to the needs of the organization throughout the process.
As a young and flexible organization, Key to Change faces different and unique challenges from week to week. Consequently, each touchpoint with the client brought new requests and directions. Working to meet those requests, while staying true to the original purpose of the document required deeper collaboration between The Spur Group and Key to Change, including a highly detailed approach to content review.
It was a win-win situation
Donating consulting services enhances nonprofits in a very unique way. It’s a seed that continues to grow after it is planted. Our donation of a messaging framework is a tool that can be used many times over and influence future business decisions, allowing Key to Change to more effectively tackle its important social cause.
“I loved working with Keith and his team at the Spur Group. Timely, efficient, smart and creative, which brought to life a project that only real professionals, could do. I’m most appreciative to Keith and Spur for the fine work they have done for Key to Change”.
- Quinton Morris | Founder, Key to Change
Donating consulting services also benefits The Spur Group. Our employees gain extra consulting experience which can be brought back into their paid client work. Unique learning opportunities also arise. For example, one of our senior consultants on the pro bono team stepped into a managerial role for the project, which is a position he wouldn’t have been able to engage in otherwise. Through pro bono work, employees can hone their skills, work with clients outside of our normal sphere of work, and feel good about what they’re doing.
The value of the services we donated to Key to Change was $25,000, but we don’t just look at our pro bono services in terms of dollars. By working with Key to Change we donated something highly valued and created a lasting relationship with an organization doing amazing things for the greater Seattle community.
We will take what we’ve learned into our future pro bono engagements to continue doing the most good.