San Francisco, California
President: Aaron Hurst
Previous winner: 2005
What it does: Taproot strengthens nonprofit organizations by harnessing the skills of business professionals to provide marketing, human resources, and capacity-building services, either for free or at discounted rates.
Taproot Foundation is the provider of pro bono services to the nonprofit sector. Founded in 2001, Taproot Foundation believes all nonprofit organizations deserve access to the same high-quality professional services that for-profit companies can afford to invest in. Taproot Foundation strengthens nonprofit organizations by allowing business professionals to volunteer their skills in the areas of marketing, information technology, and human resources, thereby enhancing nonprofits' capacity for fund-raising, effective management, and the long-term strengthening of our communities.
Aaron Hurst founded Taproot Foundation 40 years after his grandfather, Joseph E. Slater, wrote the original blueprint for the Peace Corps under the Kennedy Administration. Inspired by his grandfather and the Peace Corps' ethic that seemingly intransigent boundaries can be crossed when people work together as peers, Hurst created the Taproot Foundation to connect this country's millions of business professionals with nonprofits that need their talents and experience.
To date, only the legal profession has a well-defined culture of pro bono service. Most law firms have institutionalized processes that allow lawyers to work with nonprofit clients; long-standing ethical guidelines demand that pro bono services meet the normal standards of the profession; and individual lawyers expect to have the opportunity to engage in pro bono service throughout their careers. Comparable cultures of service have yet to take root in other fields, despite the fact that many additional business professions have the potential to provide critical support to community-based organizations.
Taproot Foundation is working to change that by cultivating an ethic of service across professional fields. Its model facilitates structured, high-quality volunteer work by professionals beyond the legal community.
The model blends elements of grant-making, professional services, and volunteerism. Like a traditional foundation, the Taproot Foundation solicits grant applications from local nonprofits. Instead of offering cash assistance, however, it provides Service Grants to its grantees. Nonprofits apply for a specific Service Grant from a current catalog of offerings in the areas of fund-raising, marketing, information technology, and talent management/human resources.
Projects funded by these Service Grants are then implemented by a team of volunteers from the business community who are recruited and assigned based on their specific professional abilities. The volunteer teams give an average of five hours per week for six months to complete the Service Grant. Facilitating the work of each team are highly structured project plans and other resources. As a result, business professionals are able to effectively and efficiently "give what they know" to a local nonprofit organization.
Taproot Foundation is redefining volunteering. For many business professionals, writing a check or ladling soup at the local homeless shelter is neither fulfilling nor the most valuable use of their time. Not only do Taproot Foundation volunteers have a greater impact on the community but they also have the opportunity to learn best practices by working with peers in their industry, as well as network for social and career development.
Says Kathy O'Leary, Taproot Foundation volunteer: "Time is my most valuable asset, and Taproot gives me a way to use my time to its fullest value--for myself and for our nonprofit clients."
Taproot Foundation volunteers are breaking down the barriers between the nonprofit and for-profit sectors while providing critical support to nonprofit organizations dedicated to supporting our communities. In the last four years, more than 1,500 business professionals have engaged in pro bono service with the Taproot Foundation, delivering an estimated market value of $10 million in professional services to nonprofits in New York and the San Francisco Bay Area. Taproot Foundation plans to expand to every major city in the United States, including an office in Chicago expected to open in early 2006.
The above Winner's Statement was provided by the profiled organization.