A corporate skills bake sale?

Large companies generously offer to support employee ‘pro-bono’ work and volunteer work, offering set-aside days and even donations matching hours; (documented in my “innovationsinfundraising.org” database here).  They are in general more willing to do this than to donate directly, or to match employee contributions.

However, there is often a skills mismatch; few people can be as productive when volunteering for a charity as they are in their main job (although orgs like BeyondMe try to improve things). There are many skills that simply have little value in the charitable sector, or that are very company-specific.

Furthermore, most volunteering is local by nature. In contrast, the charities that are most effective at saving and improving lives and reducing poverty and suffering are working in poor countries.

But volunteering (rather than donating) is popular because it feels good and allows for “virtue signaling” by individuals and companies. It is simply less socially acceptable to boast about one’s donations than to say “whew, I’m so tired from a hard day serving soup to orphans”.

A proposed solution: the Corporate skills bake sale

Many people (myself included) and companies be hesitant to hire an expensive financial advisor, legal advisor, marketing analyst, web designer, process consultant, luft gesheft. There are a variety of reasons for this. I don’t like the idea of money going into these deep pockets, I am deeply skeptical of the value provided, I may have pride in “doing it myself”, and it may not be acceptable to my company to outsource this. The big-5 firms will never get this business. On the other hand, if I could get this service in exchange for making a donation, I might be willing to do it!

There are also particular services deemed repugnant or unfair; see child.org’s valet service for festival-goers. Again, you would feel icky paying a company for this, but you might feel OK doing it in exchange for a donation.

Hence the Corporate skills bake sale: The employer offers its workers the opportunity to “volunteer” for a large “White List” of list of clients and organizations (or individuals), to provide the services in exchange for a set donation per-hour (or per-task) to the chosen charity. Presumably this will be below the usual billed rate, but still well above the value the employee would add through traditional volunteering.

For example (spitballing):

  • A PWC auditor provides a day of expert guidance to a local construction firm, in exchange for an £800 donation to the Against Malaria Foundation
  • An engineer at Google takes a three hour meeting high-level design advice to an idealistic startup in exchange for a $600 gift to GiveDirectly
  • A KPMG partner offers pension fund advice, in a series of phone calls and emails, to a private university, in exchange for £2500 directed to the Fistula foundation

 

Compared to subsidizing “regular” volunteering, there are pros and cons

Downsides and barriers include

  • Legal obstacles to allowing this (?),
  • possible cannibalization of existing future revenue sources (if you choose  the wrong White List),
  • and this may not be as inspiring/relaxing/solidarity-building as an activity like serving food to the homeless, building a house, or cleaning a park.

There are also relative benefits to the firm, especially:

  • this may provide a foot-in-the-door to new clients,
  • it may builds critical employee skills and help them discover new environments,
  •  it may attract the highly-analytical and technically skilled cohort of EA-motivated employees.

Let me know what you think.

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