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connect / 2019

Pro Bono Tech

Pro Bono Tech

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Grants Challenge by Civic Innovation Lab

Our Pro Bono Tech program harnesses local tech talent for the public good. We bridge the digital divide between the technology and public interest sectors by bringing together teams of digital professionals to provide their services pro bono on projects for local government and community-based organizations. This high-touch program increases the technical capacity, and therefore the efficacy and efficiency, of our partner organizations.

Briefly tell us a story that demonstrates how your organization turns inspiration into impact.

While Pro Bono Tech is a program that aims to bridge the technology gap between the nonprofit and tech sectors, it also gives digital professionals the opportunity to meaningfully contribute their skills to their communities and causes they care about.

We think that our participants said it best in their own words when describing their experiences volunteering with our nonprofit partners:

“I believe that the most efficient way for me to give back to society is to utilize my most valuable skills, which are more tech and business related. Although I feel that helping out in a homeless shelter or mentoring kids is very meaningful, I might not be able to make as much of an impact as compared to doing what I am best at - analyzing data. A well-thought out strategy and execution by a team of digital professionals could benefit a non-profit entities tremendously, especially when resources are usually limited for charitable organizations.”

“Taking on a challenge such as this one will help me to grow and get better at my own work, while also advancing the mission of other organizations that are most in need of help.”

“The pro bono tech opportunity allows me to give back in a way that extends my reach and impact through collaboration with peers in defining and creating solutions that address social issues.”

“This project combines a lot of interests I have: volunteer work, civic engagement, and product management.”

Which of the connect metrics will your submission impact?​

  • Rates of volunteerism

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

  • Westside
  • County of Los Angeles
  • City of Los Angeles

How will your project make LA the best place to connect?

In order to create a program that meets the needs of our nonprofit partners, a large percentage of Civic Innovation Labs’ work comes months before digital professionals come on board. We work closely with our partners to identify obstacles that impede their strategic priorities and determine where technology or digital expertise can help.

In order to set our partner organizations and digital professional participants up for success, we address these challenges in the following ways:

  1. We Pre-Scope Each Project.

Many digital professionals who set out to do pro bono work can encounter unexpected “technical debt,” which greatly increases their workload and often leads to burn-out and unfinished projects. We mitigate this risk by working collaboratively with our nonprofit partners to pre-scope projects in order to anticipate potential obstacles incoming teams may encounter, allowing us to better prepare them.

  1. We Make Sure The Work Aligns With the Nonprofits’ Strategic Goals.

We focus on projects that tie directly to our partners’ strategic priorities so that we can be sure our teams are delivering high-impact work. Our partners understand that in order for the Pro Bono Tech teams to function at their highest level, they will need a solid communication plan and feedback loop in place. By tying projects to strategic priorities, we can ensure that both our partners and Pro Bono Tech teams are able to give and get what they want out of their projects.

  1. We Recruit An Entire Cohort of Digital Professionals

We design the Pro Bono Tech experience around a cohort model. The cohort model cultivates a sense of community and gives digital professionals the opportunity to problem solve outside of their direct teams.

  1. We Put Together Multidisciplinary Teams of Digital Professionals

All of this prep work allows us to much more accurately determine the skill sets and disposition needed for each project. Rather than matching an individual to a project, we build diverse teams to work on projects together. We accept digital professionals into the Pro Bono Tech program based on their skill sets and allow them to select onto projects themselves based on their interests.

By using this system, we have a remarkably high-rate of success in placing professionals on teams where they’re not only able to utilize their skill sets, but are also contributing to a cause they believe in. Many of our partner nonprofits do not have the staff capacity or budget to do this work on their own, and having access to an entire team of digital professionals provides value beyond the project deliverables. 98% of our nonprofit partners and digital professional participants were interested in participating as part of another Pro Bono Tech project.

Our Pro Bono Tech program not only fosters meaningful connection between the technology and nonprofit sectors, but also amongst the digital professional community as well!

In what stage of innovation is this project?

Post-pilot (testing an expansion of concept after initially successful pilot)

Please explain how you will define and measure success for your project.

Ultimately, we believe we’ve proven through our pilots that there’s real value in designing opportunities for digital professionals to give pro bono time to nonprofits, and our progress in developing a pro bono tech culture in Los Angeles can be measured in the number of Pro Bono Tech participants and volunteer hours. Additionally, investing the proper time and grounding program design in the expressed preferences of all stakeholders resulted in measurable value for our nonprofits during our pilots as well, both in the form of pro bono work valued at nearly $600,000 (i.e., savings for our nonprofit partners) and the completion of projects that were designed to be sustainable within the nonprofit, independent of the volunteer.

Furthermore, whereas ad hoc, online, or poorly managed pro bono engagements result in dissatisfied parties on both ends, the model we piloted actually resulted in participants and nonprofits wanting to do more pro bono, not less. In that sense, our pilot around project management, scoping, communication, managing expectations, structuring engagement, and providing value to volunteers succeeded in designing a model program that overcame the hurdles that are specific to offering digital skills pro bono. If we can continue to run the Pro Bono Tech program with the same outcomes as our pilots, we believe that we will be successful in building the pro bono tech ecosystem in LA so that it becomes as ubiquitous as pro bono work in the legal industry.