Common Impact Blog

Pro Bono Perspectives: Janelle Woods-McNish

A Series

By Common Impact Guest Blogger | Sep 3, 2015

We all know that skills-based volunteering is a great idea for companies, its people and, most importantly, the nonprofits that deliver critical services every day to our communities.  Still, whether you’re excited to bring a skills-based volunteer program to your company, become a skills-based volunteer yourself or find professionals to help move your nonprofit organization to the next stage, it can be hard to figure out how to take that first step in making SBV a truly effective resource for you! 

Common Impact is excited to launch Pro Bono Perspectives, a series of profiles – people like you – who took a leap into skills-based volunteering.  From intrapreneurs, to entrepreneurs, to nonprofit executives, to corporate leaders – these individuals all have their own stories to tell, successes to share, lessons they’ve learned and tools they’ve used.  



Meet Janelle Woods-McNish.  As the Director of Service and Giving at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation, Janelle transformed her vision for a skills-based program into reality.  Hear her story, and learn why she has the best job at her company – and why skills-based volunteering is just like George Lucas. 

Describe your work and what drives you. 


What gets me out of bed every morning is that I truly feel I have the best job in the company. As the Director of Service and Giving at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, a nationally recognized health care services organization, I lead and oversee the company's community involvement initiatives. On any given day I could be in a HPHC red t-shirt painting a school or reading to children while on the next, I could be presenting a strategic plan to our Board of Directors in a business suit.

Why did you become “hooked” on Skills-Based Volunteering?


Seven years ago, I transitioned from a career in higher education to CSR. As a newcomer to the field, I had no idea what I was getting myself into so I immediately began researching best practices and trends. Pro Bono and skills-based volunteering surfaced as a new trend that was gaining traction outside of traditional companies such as law firms. I was drawn to the idea of utilizing a company’s most critical asset, its employees, to help build capacity of nonprofits. While our employee volunteer program was only being formed, I had a vision to make this part of our future program. In 2014, I was able to take this vision and create a very successful pilot program that will be fully integrated into our company in 2016.

What has been most rewarding about participating in a Pro Bono program?


Seeing the impact of the projects long after the project is over. One example is an instance where an HPHC employee assisted a local nonprofit with designing a new strategic plan. A year later, we are seeing the results of the plan and the implementation of it. The nonprofit created a strategy that enabled them to secure additional funding which means more services provided for more members. The HPHC employee gained presentation and project management competencies that she is able to translate to her current job assignments.

Furthermore, she is still involved with the nonprofit and has become a champion and advocate for their work.

What was most challenging, in your role, about leveraging or participating in a Pro Bono program?


It can be challenging to manage expectations. Ensuring that projects are properly scoped and expectations are clearly communicated was both a challenge in crafting this program but also proved to be one of the extremely worthwhile component of the Pro-Bono program.

If Pro Bono were a celebrity, who would it be and why?


It would totally be George Lucas. A celebrity in his own right, he is an acclaimed director who creates classics that he continues to reinvent. He does all of this behind the scenes. Like many nonprofits and the Pro Bono volunteers who support their work, much of what they do is done behind the scenes, but is a critical part of a creating positive lasting legacy in local communities.

Plus, I am a huge Star Wars fan!

Stay tuned for Janelle’s full story and access to Common Impact’s tools for corporate leaders later this month when we launch Pro Bono Perspectives!