Success Story: HandsOn Suburban Chicago

HOSC Chicago team

THE NEED

Throughout its history, HandsOn Suburban Chicago (HOSC), formerly The Volunteer Center of NW Suburban Chicago,  has had numerous examples of receiving pro bono professional services, which have been an increasingly critical part of the organization’s operations. One pivotal early example is from 2001 when the organization was facing the difficult challenge of coping with what were then separate, manual, document-based volunteer and funding tracking systems.  The difficulties presented by these infrastructure challenges, compounded by other technology limitations like nonintegrated phone systems, were a major resource strain for an organization whose non-government funding for the core program budget at the time topped out at less than $100,000.

THE SOURCE

In 2000, both the Board and staff of the volunteer center had been very successful at recruiting professional friends and family members to donate their time to help with computer and database set ups, starting a Website and executing program services. Everyone was very clear on the technical and financial challenges HOSC was facing and knew the organization needed to think about a longer term solution. Two other suburban Volunteer Centers had similar funding challenges and decided to close down. Addressing the organization’s technology needs became a high priority for meeting community needs and long term stability . Through targeted messaging and outreach the search began for a pro bono IT professional.  A highly skilled IT employee from nearby Abbot Laboratories stepped up to help.

THE PROJECT

The Abbott Laboratories volunteer, Shao Yu Lee, helped HOSC by assessing its existing technology infrastructure and the organization’s overall networking needs, writing a detailed technology plan and projected budget that would address program efficiencies and help staff save time and better support matching 10,000+ volunteers with local service opportunities each year, as well as tracking and communicating the associated results for agency stakeholders and potential new partners.

THE IMPACT

This pro bono project was the beginning of HOSC’s organizational transformation. By mapping out an assessment of the organization’s top-priority IT needs as well as the recommended solutions to implement to address them, the Abbott Laboratories pro bono volunteer developed a clear IT plan that HOSC was then able to use as the backbone to apply for and ultimately receive a three-year Organizational Capacity Building (OCB) grant from the Retirement Research Foundation, which included pro bono coaching services,  to fund the tools and associated technical support they needed to implement the critical IT recommendations and help build a sustainable infrastructure.  In addition, that process of working with skilled volunteers on pro bono projects, initially with the Abbott Laboratories volunteer and later through the capacity-building technical support and dozens of projects led by skills-based volunteers,  taught HOSC how to integrate and manage pro bono service projects effectively. As a result, since 2001 they have grown the amount of pro bono support they receive to now be worth over $1 million in pro bono internal program and capacity building support secured through AmeriCorps VISTA programs, locally based corporations, business associations and Executive Networking Group and posting specific project needs through the national volunteering portal.  Over that time, despite experiencing the worst economy in the organization’s history and 20% cuts in state and federal funding, pro bono services enabled HOSC to not only maintain programming but actually expand partnerships,  add three new management positions and launch multiple new programs (including one called SAVE which supports other nonprofit organizations in identifying their own needs and securing pro bono services,) project 64% growth and increased impact.