There’s a new way to change the world

Why isn’t trying hard good enough?  These days, we all seem to expect more from our lives.  Whether you’re just leaving college or about to retire, we want to make a difference.

Alexander ShermansongIt’s no longer enough to volunteer on a board or at a youth center.  Of course, we still want to do that, but now we want something new too.  We’re looking for innovation and impact.  We’re looking to turn our talents into results we can see.  The problem is, most of us just don’t know how.

And unfortunately with volunteering, the old adage “it’s the thought that counts” doesn’t hold true.  Far too many volunteering efforts don’t really make a difference.  Sometimes you offer your skills to a good cause, but you end up writing a report that goes nowhere.  Or you find the right role, but it turns out to be a three-year project and you have only three months.  What do you do?

Welcome to the new world of pro bono partnerships.  Imagine thousands of people, from college grads to retirees, from consulting wonks to open-collared designers, working together and getting results like cutting youth violence in half, connecting hundreds of thousands of patients to primary care, increasing community college graduation rates 80%.  That’s energizing.  That’s impact.

It turns out this kind of pro bono partnership has been quietly succeeding in Chicago for 30 years.  That’s why we want to take the model national.

How you do it is all in the name:  Civic Consulting.

  • It’s civic – we make a difference on things that matter, like jobs, education, and safety
  • It’s consulting – we help those with the ability and responsibility (our clients) make better decisions.

The model’s success hinges on finding a great client and trying to help him or her do an even better job.  Beyond writing reports or grassroots advocacy, taking a client-oriented approach deploys your skills in a framework already geared to action.  City leaders run massive operations, serving residents and businesses everyday.  By volunteering with such a leader — rather than, say, writing a letter to the editor — your skills have an immediate outlet for implementation.  And with city leaders as clients, you’re able to affect entire systems.

You need to think big to inspire.  Tackling an issue like community college graduation inspires thousands of people to volunteer their skills, not just a few hours at a time – but full time and for months.  That’s what happens when you focus on impacts, not just outputs or projects.  Incidentally, companies sponsor such volunteers in part because they share that inspiration.

Implementing such inspiring ideas requires coordinating efforts over time.  These ideas are bigger than any one volunteer project, no matter how big.  How do you find the right size of the right project for the right partner – and then do it again and again?  That’s the Civic Consulting secret: aggregating and focusing your talents so that, over time, with many others, you make a difference.