How charities win employees from the world’s top businesses


Business Man walking into horizon

While some secondees return to the corporate world, 70% on the ProInspire programme stayed at their chosen charity. (Photograph: Cultura Creative/Alamy)

Charity secondments have become a popular way for private-sector employees to share skills and explore interests with the safety net of a job to return to. But one US organisation hopes to take the secondment model a step further and nurture the next generation of charity leaders.


ProInspire facilitates year-long fellowships for private-sector professionals to work with nonprofits in the San Francisco Bay Area and Washington DC region. Since its launch in 2009, ProInspire says it has placed more than 120 fellows in 60 local and national organisations including Community Housing Partnership,Global Giving and Meals on Wheels America.


While some ProInspire fellows return to their job, more than 70% of fellows remain with their charity at the end of their placement – most for at least one year.

ProInspire founder Monisha Kapila (recently named by the Chronicle of Philanthropy as one of its 40 under 40 influential nonprofit innovators) set up the matching scheme in response to what she saw was a lack of opportunity for private-sector professionals to easily make the transition to a nonprofit career.

“A lot of people want to use their business skills for good, and nonprofits need commercial skills,” says Kapila. “We look at how to better connect this supply and demand.”
Fellows typically have between two and five years of business experience and come from a wide range of employers, including Accenture, Google, JP Morgan and Zenith Media.

Selecting the best

Applicants go through a competitive, competency-based selection process (less than 4% are accepted), then the charity interviews finalists to select their ideal secondee. Fellowship roles can include communications, fundraising, finance, project management and technology.

Business people at conference table, portrait. Job interview panel.
Applicants for the ProInspire fellowship go through a rigorous selection process before the charity chooses their ideal secondee. (Photograph: Phil Boorman/Getty Images)


Isayas Theodros, a 2013 ProInspire fellow, swapped his job as a senior auditor at Deloitte’s Costa Mesa offices in California for the role of portfolio manager at Washington-based Partners for the Common Good (PCG), a community development funding organisation. After two-and-half years in the private sector, he was looking for a sense of purpose in his work. The fellowship involved managing borrower-lender relations and loan portfolios.

“By far, the best part of my job was assisting real people who longed to make a tangible difference in their respective communities,” says Theodros.Inspired by the experience, he remained as portfolio manager with PCG for a further year.The nonprofit host covers the fellowship cost – currently $49,000 (£34,000) in the San Francisco Bay Area and $46,500 in Washington DC. The host also pays a $7,000 fee to ProInspire for fellowship training, coaching and mentoring.

Filling skills gaps

Neha Patel, associate director of strategic planning and analysis at FHI 360, a Washington-based health and education nonprofit, says secondments help to widen the recruitment pool: “Nonprofits do need the heart but we also need the business sense, the management approach and the expertise that comes from the private sector.”A recent survey of 300 heads of digital in UK charities found that 95% had no HR strategy for improving digital skills of their employees. So could investing in secondments now pay long-term dividends?
Skilling up the sector is the focus of UK-based On Purpose, which matches business professionals with charities, typically for two six-month placements. Hosts pay an annual salary of around £21,000 and a one-off fee to On Purpose of between £5,500 and £11,000, depending on size and legal structure.For a £1,000 (plus VAT) brokerage fee, the Whitehall and Industry Group’s Charity Next will place employees on the Civil Service’s fast stream graduate programme on year-long secondments with charities such as Leonard Cheshire and Place2Be.John Lewis Partnership employees can apply for a charity secondment of up to six months via the firm’s Golden Jubilee Trust.

Nurturing volunteering

While most secondees on these schemes will return to their previous jobs, many remain involved in the voluntary sector. Benet Northcote, director of corporate responsibility at John Lewis Partnership, says: “Seventy-five per cent of our secondees continue to volunteer for the [host] organisation, or another one.”

Elle Bradley-Cox spent four days a week over four months on secondment from her role as PR and marketing co-ordinator at John Lewis Sheffield to the learning disability charity Work Ltd. During her stint, which gained her a Business in the Community award, she developed a marketing strategy, PR plan and branding for the charity. “I also helped them launch their own social media presence which allowed the charity to better promote the great work they do,” says Bradley-Cox. “I was thrilled to be awarded the [BITC] award … not least because it helped to give the charity even greater exposure.”

A Year of Service: From small screen to big picture


The Middle is the first-ever network television show to feature a character serving in AmeriCorps (Pic credit: ServiceNation)

As featured in The Guardian’s Pick of the blogs

TV programmes, movies and social media will help attract a younger, digital-savvy generation in the US to take a ‘year of service’, claims a new campaign backed by former president Bill Clinton. But are story lines about community service really enough to inspire a new generation of pre- or post-college gappers?

Chelsea Clinton recently teamed up with US chat show host Jimmy Kimmel to launch Serve A Year – the Clinton Foundation-backed drive by advocacy organisation ServiceNation to get one million young people volunteering in the US by 2023.

The goal: to harness the talents of millennials to tackle a heap of social issues including food poverty and youth unemployment. With a longer lens, the campaign hopes to inspire and nurture the nation’s future leaders and problem solvers. More ambitiously perhaps, Chelsea Clinton’s aspiration is that a service year after high school or college will become “the expectation, not the exception”, part of growing up in America.

Beyond volunteering

Campaign spokesman Tim Smith says a service year “is not a volunteer opportunity, but a year-long service commitment”, through programs like AmeriCorps that come with a paycheck. AmeriCorps members are supported with a living stipend of an average $14,000 a year  (depending on the particular program), plus a $5,500 education award received upon completion of their service year that can be used for educational purposes (tuition, books, student loans etc).

Airbnb will donate accommodation and support for approximately 1,000 AmeriCorps members as they move to new cities for their year of service. There are 80,000 AmeriCorps positions available this year. One goal for Serve A Year is to expand these opportunities, says Smith.

Compelling campaign

Serve A Year is a well-connected campaign that unites non profits like AmeriCorps and Teach for America with some of the biggest US media and entertainment companies such as Comcast and NBCUniversal, Tumblr, YouTube and FunnyOrDie. 

As part of the Serve A Year campaign, ABC’s The Middle recently featured a character (Brad) deferring college to spend a year with AmeriCorps (“It’s kind of like the Peace Corps, but for America!”). When he finishes his service, ‘Brad’ can use his Segal AmeriCorps Education Award to reduce his college costs.

The campaign is based on a similar initiative that helped popularise the concept of the “designated driver”. Harvard School of Public Health worked with Hollywood writers to insert drunk driving prevention messages into popular shows over a four-year period; more than 160 prime-time programs incorporated this concept and the country saw a 30% decline in drunk driving fatalities between 1988 and 1994.

YouTube is among the channels that Serve A Year hopes will attract its target market. Latest research shows that three-quarters of millennials have an account on a social networking site, compared with only half of Generation Xers, and less than a third of the Baby Boomers.

Service nation?

Clinton et al hope that this will be a compelling argument for their new breed of national service, in a country where almost six million 16-24 year olds are not in school or employment. According to government data, millennials now represent the largest generation in the US, comprising around one third of the total population in 2013.

In the UK, organisations such as CSV and Year Here continue to attract UK millennials to community service opportunities. But with total student outstanding loan debt in the US over $1 trillion at the end of the second quarter of 2014 (the second largest category of household debt), is it really feasible to have post-grads doing voluntary service rather than getting a job?

Absolutely, says ServiceNation executive director Zach Maurin: “Today, the expected path is high school, college and then a career.

“We want to redefine growing up to include a service year that will help tackle our nation’s challenges and empower the next generation. We envision a day when you’re as likely to hear young people ask each other, ‘Where will your year of service be?’ as you would, ‘Where are you applying to college?’”