Viget's Pro-Bono Initiative
We set out to provide 2,000 hours of pro bono services to Black-led nonprofit organizations working to combat structural racism in the United States. Here are some of the lessons we learned along the way.
In 2020, Viget, like the rest of the United States of America, found itself reflecting inwardly and outwardly on its role in furthering racial justice in the country. As a result of this reflection, Viget proposed a set of commitments addressing both internal and external structures.
“We are committed to creating a more equitable, diverse, and ultimately more successful company. While we’ve had an internal diversity and inclusion initiative for years and have made some progress, we must do more. We will be proactively anti-racist and more intentionally inclusive...”
It can be challenging to determine metrics that truly represent progress when it comes to anti racism work. However, as Viget is a goal-driven organization, we looked to one of the clearest indicators of priority: How we spend our time. So, as part of Viget’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Commitment to Progress, Viget set out to provide 2,000 hours of pro bono services to Black-led nonprofit organizations working to combat structural racism in the U.S.
As driven as Viget was about partnering with these organizations, there was a pretty big stumbling block – Viget had highly resourced connections with the digital community, but lacked any strong existing connections with the communities it wanted to partner with. With an attitude of growth and grace, Viget opened itself up to new ways of being in service of having meaningful and authentic impact. I, alongside Heather Burmester and Claire Atwell Eisinger, worked to design a revised pro bono initiative for Viget.
Here are some lessons on how Viget managed to shape its pro bono initiative to prioritize harm reduction and meaningful connection.
Lesson One: Rely on What Already Exists
Viget realized and acknowledged that we had to create an authentic bridge and connection to the communities we wanted to work with. While we didn't yet have those direct connections, there were and are organizations and leaders in the space who we could look to for guidance. Viget connected with a nonprofit capacity building organization which helps nonprofits fulfill their mission. Viget partnered with Resourceful Communities, a program of the Conservation Fund. Resourceful Communities works to support a network of 500+ grassroots organizations through funding, training and technical support. Partnering with Resourceful Communities was significant for two reasons: 1) It had trusted and successful relationships with organizations we would later partner with, and 2) We knew the organizations we worked for would have continued support after our projects were completed.
Lesson Two: Start Small
Viget had to reconcile with the fact that despite the drive and excitement to do “big and broad” work we needed to commit to starting small and focus on building trust. As outsiders, it was important for us to not overstep, to invest our time in understanding their organizational goals, challenges, and resources, and then understand where and how we should plug in.
Because of this, we chose North Carolina as our pilot state for the pro bono program. Instead of the large-scale digital products Viget specializes in, we embarked on a set of highly focused and small web optimization projects. We focused our efforts on making existing websites better, using the tools directly at people’s disposal. At first, this was challenging for the team, but the risk of starting too big and failing to complete a project or creating something a small nonprofit couldn’t maintain was not worth it.
Lesson Three: Do Internal Work
Prior to embarking on these projects, Viget team members had prep work to do. In addition to voluntary sessions tackling racism and white supremacy, the pro bono support teams were required to complete a two-pronged orientation program that included a history lesson about the regions of North Carolina we were engaging in, as well as a briefing on the importance of and steps to embracing flexibility with this work. An orientation program led by myself was designed to understand the power dynamics of pro bono work and to get an accurate tuning-in to the communities each of them would be working in.
This element of the work was critical in ensuring that the focus on why we were doing this work and the context in which we were working was never lost.
Lesson Four: Be Flexible
Viget had to work hard on adjusting its frame of thinking. As consultants, it’s our nature to apply our tried-and-true structure and tactics to our client work. This time, however, we took a different approach to better fit our model of work to the organizations we were supporting. Team members were asked to put on generalist hats rather than specialist hats.
In addition, Viget created a highly targeted and meaningful set of services that were the appropriate size and fit to the organizations we were now serving. A large chunk of our hours were spent on our web optimization projects. These 3-4 week projects had a team working together to completely transform existing digital assets of small and rural organizations. We found ways to work with the tools they were already using, and helped structure their stories in meaningful ways to better reach their communities and better communicate with potential donors and grant funders.
Lesson Five: Ensure Your Work Has Sustainable Support
A huge element of our support was contingent on the fact that we did not engage with an organization inconsistently. To do so would waste the time and energy of the organizations we worked with, so instead, we ensured that each of the organizations we were working with had existing and ongoing support through our partnership with Resourceful Communities.
Viget also worked to ensure that any project we undertook was scalable to the organization.
Every effort was made to teach community partners how to maintain the work we did through documentation and training.
Lesson Six: Include Black Voices in the Planning, Management and Implementation
Last but certainly not least, it is essential to center Black voices in this work. Part of Viget’s internal work was to ensure that we centered Black voices within our organization so we could better serve the communities we were working with. We did this in the implementation of projects as well as in the planning and management of projects.
In the end, Viget supported 1,500 hours of great work, falling just shy of our 2,000 goal. We successfully implemented seven pro bono digital projects that serve Black communities and organizations that support these communities and advocate for their interests.
We learned a lot along the way and are excited to continue our pro bono initiative in the future. Most importantly, though, Viget has created lasting partnerships we hope to cultivate and grow. We would love to hear your thoughts on our pro bono initiative and any insight you may have from similar work.