Rotary is about fellowship and service work. How do we increase the impact of our service work in order to achieve higher impact in our communities while also fostering fellowship among Rotarians and others committed to making a difference in the life of the less fortunate? One potential response is the concept of the pro bono Rotarian or Rotaractor.
In my (limited) experience, many clubs engage in service projects that do not really build on the professional expertise of their members. Beautifying a school before the start of the school year, serving food for the homeless, helping in the renovation of a house for a vulnerable family, distributing dictionaries to third graders, or even joining a polio vaccination drive for a short period of time are all worthwhile activities. Such activities should continue and they often enable many members in a club to be involved in the service projects of the club.
But these one-shot activities typically do not build on the expertise that Rotarians have developed over many years in their professional career. In addition to traditional (local) service projects, Rotarians should probably also engage in more extensive pro bono work, for example to provide advice to nonprofits as consultants would. While the term pro bono is often associated with free legal advise, pro bono work can be done in many other areas, building on a wide range of expertise that volunteers may have. The value of the volunteer time that Rotarians would allocate to pro bono consulting could be very high for local nonprofits, with potentially larger beneficial impacts for communities than is the case with traditional projects. Again, the idea is not to pitch one form of service work against another, but to expand on what clubs currently do in their service work.
Importantly, I believe that a pro bono consulting model may also be beneficial for fellowship among Rotarians. While for some issues faced by nonprofits pro bono consulting can be done effectively in a short period of time, for more complex issues analyzing the challenges faced by a nonprofit and suggesting a solution takes a few months. For these challenges, pro bono consulting is typically done by a small team of 3-5 volunteers who commit to dedicating a bit of their time for several months in order to provide in-depth professional and free advice to local nonprofits. As Rotarians work together on such pro bono projects, stronger fellowship and friendships will emerge, and the vitality of clubs will improve as well. The pro bono Rotarian concept can really be a win-win for local nonprofits, Rotary clubs, and the communities we serve.
This coming Rotary year, I will help my club explore in a systematic way pro bono consulting opportunities with local nonprofits in our area (Washington, DC). You will hear more about this in coming weeks and months through this blog. We will start small, and we will assess the value of our pro bono work along the way. But we hope that the idea will grow and strengthen our club, as well as other clubs that may adopt this model.
If you would like to move in this direction in your club as well or if you would like to discuss similar ideas you may have, don’t hesitate to comment on this blog or to send me if you prefer a private email through the Contact Me page. I will be happy to help if I can, and I look forward to learning from you if you have already adopted a pro bono consulting model in your own Rotary or Rotaract club.