Lawyers can do it, so why not other business professionals?March 2008
Legal firms are showing the way on pro bono work – and more of us should follow, says Aaron Hurst
While it can sometimes be tempting to criticize lawyers, there’s one area in which the legal profession puts the business community to shame: pro bono service. Lawyers have long recognized that it’s a privilege to have the skills to practise their trade – and that with privilege comes a responsibility to make their skills available to those unable to afford them. It’s not uncommon to have as much as five per cent of a law firm’s hours dedicated to pro bono causes.
A few other professions are starting to accept this responsibility by investing in pro bono service. The non-profit body Public Architecture recently found, for example, that a majority of architecture firms in the US donate more than two per cent of their time to pro bono work.
This is not the case, however, for professionals in other areas such as marketing, information technology and human resources, where such work tends to be ad hoc at best and where most companies have no formal pro bono goals.
Inside large companies, volunteering is still dominated by unsophisticated programmes that treat employees as generic helpers rather than leveraging their professional talents to really make an impact in the community. This is despite the fact that many non-profit organizations have a desperate need for more skilled volunteers. Pro bono services can address some of the most basic infrastructure needs of such bodies by providing skills that are essential to running an effective organization, but from which non-profits are unable to benefit because of the expense.
There are a lot of excuses one can give for not doing pro bono work, but they are just that – excuses. The most common is that people simply don’t have the time. Yet I know business professionals who work 60-plus hours a week and still make time for pro bono work and their families. I also know professionals who work 40 hours per week and say they’re too busy. It’s an issue of priority rather than of time.
The second most common excuse is that business professionals don’t know how to get involved since their companies don’t provide pro bono opportunities. This is an easy obstacle to overcome as there are many resources out there to help connect professionals with pro bono work.
It’s time to put away the excuses and make sure we set a higher standard for professions, companies and individuals – to learn from the lawyers and give something back through our most valuable asset, our skills and talents.
Aaron Hurst is the president and founder of the Taproot Foundation
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