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Pro bono: Mix and match

Every Issue

Cite as: (2004) 78(7) LIJ, p.85

Different programs are available to match organisations which need pro bono assistance with those willing to provide help.

There is a need for all kind of pro bono assistance in the community, but there is also great generosity and willingness on the part of all sections of the legal profession to help. However, one of the biggest problems is making the connection between those in need and those with the capacity to help.

The following are three examples of how technology has been used innovatively to solve the problem of matching helpers with companies in need.

Law student traffic light project
Law students have, as we know, boundless energy. Forever on the lookout for opportunities to expand their learning and community involvement, the Law Students Societies of Melbourne and Monash combined to create a volunteering website http://www.lawvolunteers.org.au. At a glance, an interested law student can identify groups such as community legal centres, PILCH and the Family Law Assistance Program requiring assistance.

Early success of the site though, presented its own problems. Suddenly, some community legal centres were oversupplied with offers and had trouble managing the flood of applications. Others complained that despite their desperate need they did not seem to attract enough would-be volunteers. The technologically savvy students solved the problem by developing a “traffic light” system with some financial assistance from the Victoria Law Foundation, Now the website’s colour-coded system makes for a more efficient and effective match. Green indicates that the service is eager to hear from volunteers, orange that they will accept applications but are not actively looking, while red indicates that the service cannot accept volunteers at that time. The green light has led to many happy unions.

goodcompany
A not-for-profit organisation called goodcompany, http://www.goodcompany.com.au, is using technology to make volunteering easier for time-poor professionals. As their website proclaims, “goodcompany exists to help put young professionals in contact with community organisations seeking assistance with specific one-off needs and projects”.

Prospective volunteers simply sign up at their website to receive regular emails containing a variety of volunteering opportunities relevant to their skills and interests. Regular face-to-face forums also provide the opportunity for goodcompany members to “get together to give something back”. After just four years of operation, goodcompany has more than 2600 member volunteers, works with more than 250 community organisations and has facilitated nearly 600 outcomes worth an estimated $4 million to the community.

Examples of some goodcompany outcomes include the production of a promotional video for Starlight Children’s Foundation, a new website for the Sacred Heart Mission, an accountant for the board of The Big Issue and strategic planning advice for the Mirabel Foundation – all work completed for free by goodcompany volunteers.

Volunteer Match
Pro Bono Australia’s initiative “Volunteer Match” is an Internet service that matches skilled professionals with not-for-profit (NFP)

organisations. Found at http://www.volunteermatch.com.au, Volunteer Match now has more than 1800 registered NFPs, more than 1000 registered volunteers and hundreds of successful matches across Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.

Volunteer Match was launched with help from the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia. A committee of young accountants saw an opportunity to become involved in volunteer work and to encourage other Institute members to join. Volunteer Match is now keen to expand and attract members of the legal profession.

Pro Bono Australia founder Karen Mahlab said the service filled a gap in the volunteer arena where volunteers with highly sought after professional skills could form a relationship with a NFP in a user-friendly Internet environment. It was specifically established to ensure professional skills reached NFP groups at an organisational level.

Pro Bono Australia’s Volunteer Matching Program website allows professionals to register their interest and provides a place where NFP groups can post their volunteer opportunities. Volunteers can specify what role they would like to play – whether it be board member, lawyer, mentor or general participant. Ms Mahlab said the site was designed to provide a personalised service linking Australia’s business and professional sectors with the community sector.

For those with the will to help, technology has provided the way to be of pro bono service.


This column is coordinated by the VICTORIA LAW FOUNDATION. For further information contact the Pro Bono Secretariat via the VLF’s website http://www.victorialaw.org.au.

probonocolumn@liv.asn.au

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