The sixth free ebook in the Rotarian Economist Short Books series has been released. The book tells the story of an initiative by a Rotary club to improve its public image by writing articles in the local media about volunteering opportunities for residents to make a difference in their community. The articles feature great local nonprofits, some of which the club is partnering with in order to implement service projects. The initiative appears to have been a success. To download your free copy, please go here.
Rotarians could have a larger postive impact on their community if they used their professional skills to the benefit of local nonprofits. I have mentioned the idea of the Pro Bono Rotarian on this blog in recent months. My club is launching a new pro bono pilot initiative on July 12 at the Hill Center in Washington, DC.
For readers of this blog living in the greater Washington, DC, area, I hope that you will be able to join us for the launch event. Our keynote speaker will be Eric Goldstein, the Founder and CEO of One World Education. Please spread the word about this event!
For those not living in the Washington, DC area who may be interested in the initiative, please don’t hesitate to post a comment on this blog or contact me if you would like to learn more about this initiative and how you could launch similar initiatives in your club.
The info on our launch event is provided here as well as below.
Launch of the Capitol Hill Pro Bono Initiative
Tuesday July 12, 2016 from 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM at the Hill Center
Old Naval Hospital, 921 Pennsylvania Ave SE, Washington, DC 20003
To help us plan, please register at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/8DDPLQK.
What? Help local nonprofits to achieve higher impact. As a lawyer, marketer, social media expert, evaluation specialist, or other professional, volunteer your skills to help nonprofits improve/expand their services.
Why? Because you can often make a larger impact in the community when you volunteer your skills to help nonprofits excel and grow.
How? Join an initiative from the Rotary Club of Capitol Hill in 2016-17 to provide pro bono advice to local nonprofits in Capitol Hill and beyond.
Who? This initiative is for Rotarians and others to engage in service work. Non-Rotarians are welcome to join teams advising participating nonprofits.
Keynote Speaker: Eric Goldstein, Founder of One World Education
One World Education is an innovative DC-based nonprofit running the largest writing program in DC public schools, reaching close to 6,000 students in 2015-16. A team from the Rotary Club of Capitol Hill and American University recently conducted an independent evaluation of One World Education, suggesting positive impacts and strong appreciation by teachers and students. Eric Goldstein will explain how the program works, why writing skills are essential for students to succeed in college and careers, and how nonprofits can benefit from professional pro bono advice.
Eric Goldstein is the founder of One World Education. Previously he was an educator in public, charter, and independent schools. He earned a US Department of the Interior Partners in Education Award while teaching in DC. Eric holds a Master’s in Education from the University of Vermont and a Master’s of International Policy from George Washington University. His career in education started after a solo 5,000-mile bicycle trip across the US in 1999.
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.
by Quentin Wodon
Members of service clubs such as Rotary, Kiwanis, and Lions often talk about vocational service. How is vocational service practiced today? How should it be? In Rotary, October is Vocational Service month. Before the month closes, it may be useful to discuss how Rotarians engage in vocational service, and what more could be done.
Rotary International has published a guide on vocational service. The idea is for Rotarians to promote (1) High ethical standards in business and professions; (2) The recognition of the worthiness of all useful occupations; and (3) The dignifying of each Rotarian’s occupation as an opportunity to serve society. The guide suggests that this can be achieved among others by talking about one’s vocation and learning about others’ vocations, using professional skills to serve the community, practicing one’s profession with integrity, and guiding others, especially youth, in their professional development.
Vocational service can take many forms, but some of those are not specific to Rotary. Everyone should practice his or her profession with integrity. And many different people talk with passion about their vocation and enjoy learning from the vocations of others.
What should be emphasized most in Rotary as well as in other service clubs is the use of one’s professional skills and experience to serve communities. Mentoring younger individuals, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, in order to help them make good career choices is a great step in the right direction. But vocational service should be broader than that, as the Rotary guide indicates. Unfortunately, we are probably not doing enough.
Let me take the example of a club I know well. The club is strong, with a large membership. It runs many different successful service activities, including among others distributing food for the homeless, providing dictionaries to third graders, planting trees in parks, tutoring students in public schools, providing grants to local organizations, visiting wounded warriors, designing international projects, etc. Yet for most of these activities, the professional skills of the membership do not come into play in a major way. When service projects make use of the professional skills of the members, this is typically the case for only a few of those members.
This club – and probably many others – could achieve more in the community by designing and supporting projects for which the unique legal, administrative, managerial, financial, medical, and other skills of the membership would be tapped. Many Rotarians have deep professional skills, and these skills have a high value on the market. But in my (limited) experience, relatively few Rotarians use their skills in their service work in a systematic way.
There are exceptions. One of them is the work of Rotarian Action Groups (RAGs). These groups are led by Rotarians and Rotaractors in their field of expertise in order to help clubs implement projects and exchange ideas and experiences. There are today close to 20 RAGs operating on the following topics: AIDS and family health; Alzheimer’s and dementia; Blindness prevention; Blood donation; Child Slavery; Dentistry; Diabetes; Food plant solutions; Health Fairs; Hearing; Hunger and malnutrition; Literacy; Malaria; Microfinance and community development; Multiple sclerosis; Peace; Polio survival; Population and development; Water and sanitation. A brief description of RAGs together with the contact information for each of the groups is available here.
But the work of many RAGs, while very important, tends to focus more on international than local projects, and the reality is that a larger number of Rotarians are involved in local than international projects. New models are needed to encourage Rotarians to use their professional skills and experience in service to their local community. Yes of course, this is already happening in many places, but it needs to happen much more. What I have in mind are models such as Taproot (to take just one example) that facilitate pro bono work by professionals in the community. It seems that we do not have such models yet in Rotary, and probably other service clubs do not have them either.
If Rotary and other service organizations were not only promoting, but also facilitating on the ground the use by members of their professional skills in service to the community, either with their own systems or by partnering with existing groups that specialize in this type of facilitation, clubs and their members could probably make an even larger difference in the world.