Leading with the Needs and Challenges: FAQs on Adapting Your Global Pro Bono Practice

By Amanda MacArthur, Chief Program Officer, PYXERA Global

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Transitioning to a completely virtual work life has been a challenge for many of us, PYXERA Global included. It’s now been one month since we made the organizational decision to take our office in DC remote, followed rapidly by our global offices in India, West Africa, and Latin America. Our office in China is just now beginning to emerge from months of quarantine and is providing us all with hope and advice on the next steps. The move to a virtual life has not only disrupted the day-to-day way we operate, it’s impacted how we design and implement our programs, especially in our Global Pro Bono Practice

Our team has spent the last month listening closely to our private sector partners and helping them develop solutions to maintain the integrity of their employee volunteer programs and ensure continued momentum in reaching their own organizational goals for employee engagement, continued social impact, and even directing employee resources towards the COVID-19 Response. We’re happy to share some of our learnings here and encourage you to reach out to us directly with your specific questions.

Can I transition my immersive pro bono program to a virtual model?

The COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to disrupt employee engagement and talent development programs for the foreseeable future—especially for programs focused on immersing employees in a nonprofit environment. Travel restrictions don’t necessarily mean an end to your programs. Moving to a virtual model enables you to continue to engage your employees, impact your community, and achieve your own strategic goals. PYXERA Global is working with our corporate partners to transition their immersive Global Pro Bono programs to virtual models and, in many cases, to design new programs with the ability to engage an even broader array of employees. In helping you transition to virtual models, we can support internal and external communications, adjustments to project scope, logistics (even virtual programs have complex logistical requirements!) and training your employees on how to be virtual pro bono consultants.

What is the time commitment for a virtual pro bono program?

While we do recommend developing a loose structure for your virtual program to ensure that both your employees and the benefiting organization stay on track, virtual volunteering can be scaled to be undertaken over just a few dedicated hours in a single day or in smaller increments over the course of several weeks. For our team-based virtual models—the closest in design to an immersive Global Pro Bono program—we recommend employees spend 2–5 hours per week on their projects, which take place over the course of several weeks. For a shorter engagement, our Pro Bono Clinic model takes just three hours total over two days.

My Global Pro Bono program is a critical component of our talent development strategy, how can we prepare for the future if social distancing remains in place for an extended period? 

Pivoting as early as possible to a virtual model will be critical to maintaining the integrity of your program. PYXERA Global can work with you to build in additional coaching, cross-cultural teaming components, and virtual learning modules to ensure your company’s future leaders are ready to navigate our new realities. Just like our immersive Global Pro Bono programs, we’ll work with you to adapt your existing program or design a new one to meet specific needs and strategic goals.

What type of support do nonprofits need that is well-suited to a virtual model?

Our staff has reached out to a broad cross-section of our past nonprofit partners around the world to understand their needs in light of the COVID-19 crisis. This is what we’re hearing:

  • COVID-19 is having a substantial impact on organizations, with 96 percent of organizations indicating the current situation is presenting moderate or significant challenges how they operate.
    • Example projects from our partners that need corporate assistance now include:
      • Assessing foodbank supply chains
      • Developing technology solutions for a senior citizen-friendly caller program
      • Developing a virtual mentor/coaching program
      • Modifying school curricula into digital content
      • Supporting sales operations for online orders
      • Enabling more secure online platforms for workshops, meetings, among others
      • Creating communications and awareness campaigns to better reach and inform beneficiaries

How can I provide my employee with resources on virtual volunteering, even if I can’t transition a formal program? 

There are a lot of great ways for employees to use their company-offered volunteer hours during this time with a focus on virtual volunteering. A number of open source volunteer sites are available, such as VolunteerMatch, which enables individuals to reach out to requesting organizations directly to provide much needed virtual support. At PYXERA Global, we’re working with some of our clients to create Virtual Volunteer Toolkits that equip employees with the tools to volunteer successfully within their own communities. We’ve also developed a Virtual Employee-Driven approach based on a model we developed in collaboration with Anglo American. The Virtual Employee-Driven model empowers employees to develop skills-based projects with organizations that are dear to them personally and provides a bit more structure and support than a wholly individual approach.

We had planned a large Day of Service with employees from across our global offices. Is there any way to have a unified, but virtual approach? 

We’ve received this question a few times. Creating a virtual program that engages a global employee base virtually can seem overwhelming, but this is absolutely an area where we can assist. Whether you want to work with existing grantees or social sector partners or need a completely new approach, we can work with you to create a program that provides real value to nonprofit partners and actively engages your employees. Our global network of pro bono professionals enables us to quickly develop a programming approach that is both unified across your company and unique to the needs of individual geographies.

There is interest at our company finding a way to be directly engaged in the COVID-19 Response beyond financial contributions. What might that look like?

In any disaster response, the immediate needs are most readily addressed by donating money and resources to the organizations best able to deploy them. However, there is also a need for human capital resources to fill capacity gaps at the organizational level. At PYXERA Global we’ve developed a database of immediate response projects that would benefit from the skills and expertise of your employees.

Many of the immediate challenges we’re hearing about with regards to COVID-19 result from systemic problems—whether they are in the healthcare system, the economy, or even education. PYXERA Global has been working with a number of our social sector partners to develop COVID-19 Corporate Challenges that will address specific, complex issues they are facing, and which must be resolved in advance of any future systemic challenge. First developed in collaboration with BlackRock, the Challenge model is designed to engage a broad cross-section of your employees to create innovative solutions for a problem posed by a social sector partner. We can also work with you to develop a Challenge that is specific to one or more of your core social impact areas.

Do you have any advice on pivoting our approach to CSR in light of the COVID-19 crisis? 

COVID-19 has disrupted not only how we work and volunteer, but also plans and strategies for achieving impact on long-settled goals and objectives. PYXERA Global has been working with a number of companies in an advisory capacity to realign Corporate Social Responsibility strategies to address challenges highlighted by COVID-19. We can work with you to develop an approach to your CSR programming and giving that is responsive to COVID-19, but still aligned to your core corporate capabilities and organizational goals. Furthermore, we can help you design an impact measurement approach to help you ensure that your resources—be they hours of employee volunteer time, cash, or in-kind product donations are indeed creating positive and long-lasting impact.

We have been wanting to develop a pro bono program for some time now, but we are not sure if the timing is right. Do you think we should wait until the COVID-19 pandemic slows down?

This is a great question, and one we get often. Our recommendation is that now is the perfect time to begin designing what your pro bono program can look like. Whether it be virtual or immersive, we can work with you to engage multiple stakeholders across your company and begin to align the program’s strategic pillars, objectives, implementation framework, impact measurement and more—so that when you ultimately implement the program in whichever format is best for your goals—you are ready.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on some of the tough decisions and pressures our company’s leadership must confront. We know it’s not going to get any easier. We want our rising leaders to be prepared to deal with complex and uncertain realities such as this in the future. Can you help us think through this?

This pandemic has undoubtedly stretched some leaders in new ways and forced the accelerated development of critical skills to get through these tough times. We can certainly spend some time with you to think through what critical skills are needed by leaders in your company, and then develop an approach that is best suited to prepare rising leaders to gain those skills. In addition to Global Pro Bono programs, some of our existing approaches include Board Vector—a virtual board training program that prepares your rising leaders through nonprofit board service; and Leading the Sustainable Transformation—a 10-week certificate program where participants work with a global team to transform a virtual business ecosystem into a model focused on sustainability.

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