Pro bono around the world – Esther Hofstede (Samen voor Eindhoven)

Pro Bono Lab launched in 2020 the study “International Panorama of pro bono”. Its objective : analyse the diversity of pro bono practices around the world. Discover the testimony of Esther, from Samen Voor Eindhoven in Holland.

1. Tell us more about the national context in which your organisation operates

How is Holland different from other countries? Perhaps on the knowledge on how to do pro bono. Companies in Holland think it is really easy. They underestimate how much can go wrong and the complexity of the process. The percentage of successful pro bono is very low if you don’t follow a certain methodology.

How can you do it in an impactful way, addressing the need of the NGO as well as the interest of the company? There’s not so much knowledge on pro bono in Holland and the pro bono movement is not so big. I don’t know any organisation here that is focused only on pro bono.

Companies in Holland think it is really easy. They underestimate how much can go wrong and the complexity of the process
All the companies we work with give at least one day per year to volunteering, through employee’s legislation. It’s not mandatory though, companies have to decide on their own and it’s not imposed by the government. It’s not an issue in Holland that it should become obligatory,

2. What are the different activities that you put into place within your organisation?

On pro bono, we have the pro bono marathon day, since 7 years ago. At first, it was something really easy, corporate volunteers just gave advice. Yet, the problem was that non-profits would come back and say they didn’t get the solution they needed. So through the help and training of Pro Bono Lab, we reinforced it and it became a 3 months programme of pro bono. It’s focused on communication and marketing. That’s a big part of our yearly calendar.

We have otherwise the one-on-one legal pro bono, with a lawyer or legal expert. Then the hands-on projects: with corporate teams who volunteer for lonely people. Finally, we have “community coaching”: you become a coach, a mentor on a specific issue for a board member of an NGO, for half a year. Once a year we start with a group of 10-12 coaches.

3. Can you share examples of innovative pro bono programmes?

Since two/three years, beneficiaries also join the pro bono day. For instance, we had an NGO with homeless people who make products (like candles for instance), and they needed to sell the product with a story. So 10 communication experts set up a name and a whole branding for this social business entrepreneurship programme. Homeless people joined as well during the day, to give feedback and make this project their own. We did the same with refugees.

We bring beneficiaries so that they can give feedback and company professionals have to talk to them as well, not just NGOs.

After the training with Pro Bono Lab, we also decided that one day of pro bono was not impactful as it should be because there were still things to be done. So now, we train a volunteer leader from a company who’s a “super volunteer”. This person helps us with the scoping of the NGO needs, she facilitates the session on the pro bono marathon day, and after the day, she tries to get people back together again to help more. The goal is to make pro bono volunteering more impactful on the long run.

In addition, all the volunteering opportunities of the pro bono marathon day are linked with the Sustainable Development Goals. If you volunteer for homeless people, we say that you help on the 1st SDG, on poverty.

Finally, we work with a recruitment agency who has a lot of self-entrepreneurs specialised in marketing and communication. They organise trainings, workshops, we can use their building…and they help us find 80 volunteers.

4. You’re involved in “networking activities” : can you tell us more about this ?

We are a network organisation, so we have 100 NGOs and corporates who are members of our network and they have to pay a fee every year. Once or twice a year, we have an event for the network where we give members trainings or workshops, and they can meet one another.

Additionally, twice a year with local authorities and two big companies, we organise a match-making diner where people can ask for knowledge and training: we bring in 20 companies and 20 NGOs together. We train NGOs in advance so that they know what they can ask for: everything but money ! And everytime, we set a different topic for the match-making diner (for instance, poverty or children’ empowerment).

5. Have you adapted your activity to the coronavirus situation?

We were totally out of business because we didn’t have any digital volunteering, and all the offline missions were cancelled. So a bit later on, we started with 3 new types of volunteering:
1. Micro volunteering, with little actions that people can do from their house;
2. Online volunteering but it’s very hard to find good online opportunities with non-profits;
3. Corona-proof volunteering, to help for instance lonely people with their groceries.

We also organised webinars for companies and NGOs. We advised a company on how to spend their money with a big donation and find the right project.

We are inventing ourselves in new ways. The problem is that there are many more volunteers than needs, and online opportunities are not so numerous.
60% of our budget is from companies, and this might decrease I’m afraid. We’ll make a plan before the summer to see how to move things further. There will be a social crisis, so companies will want to act but I don’t know if they’ll have the budget.

So it’s a big challenge but we do enjoy ourselves very much, we do a lot for old people for instance, like serenades !

6. Why is pro bono important according to you?

Especially now, there’ll be a social crisis and people will need more help, they’ll be even more lonely. Companies need to do something about this, it’s a moral obligation.

At the same time, the work that non-profits do will be even more needed, and yet they will have even less money than before. They will need knowledge about finance, marketing & communication… We need to develop pro bono and find new ways to help non-profits, like online volunteering.


Read more interviews here.