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Pro Bono Tools for Change

By Common Impact | November 30, 2022

“Pro bono has a long and rich history in the legal profession. The term brings to mind passionate lawyers nobly defending clients without the means to pay. But pro bono, short for the Latin pro bono publico, which translates to “for the public good,” is not just for lawyers.

I am thrilled to join Common Impact as its new CEO and am excited to help expand the concept of pro bono far beyond the legal profession. Before joining Common Impact, I served as the Executive Director of PILnet, a global legal pro bono organization that enables lawyers to work pro bono to support the world’s most vulnerable populations, like refugees fleeing Ukraine or Afghanistan, Roma facing discrimination in Europe, and migrant workers in Asia. Witnessing the social, racial, and environmental challenges roiling our societies, many lawyers, especially young lawyers, consider pro bono to be not just a professional obligation but also a personal imperative. 

Today, the impulse to create social change is felt far beyond the legal profession. People everywhere are demonstrating a renewed commitment to dismantling the social and racial inequality that destabilizes our societies and the environmental emergencies that threaten our planet, among other pressing community causes. I joined Common Impact because I am inspired by the commitment to social purpose present across our society and in every profession. At Common Impact, we aim to activate that passion for the public good.  

Nonprofit organizations sit at the center of society’s “civic space” to borrow another term from the international NGO scene. “Civic space” is where nonprofit organizations, associations, clubs, communities, and neighborhoods come together to support one another. All societies are made stronger when their civic space is vibrant, healthy, and resilient. Yet too often, nonprofit organizations working to build a more equitable and sustainable world lack the means to invest in their institutional health and progress. Whereas companies invest 20-30% of their budgets in their core operations, nonprofits typically spend significantly less. That means nonprofits often have limited resources to build financial models, engage in strategic planning, design databases, or redesign websites – elements that may seem mundane at the surface but are crucial for mission-driven organizations to successfully serve their communities.   

All volunteering helps, but in our experience, skills-based volunteering is the most impactful type of volunteering. And it creates a triple win – nonprofits get free, specialized help for their unmet institutional needs, professionals get to put their skills to work for tangible social impact, and the companies who provide these opportunities get a more rewarded, engaged workforce who also learn about social issues, collaborate across sectors, and gain new skills.  

There is an ultimate winner in the Common Impact equation: society. We work across sectors, grow our connections, expand the scope of our conversations, and build solidarity with unlikely partners.