• Giving Back

5 Ways Pro Bono Service Can Boost Your Career

Pro bono service benefits the employees as much as the nonprofits they help. Here’s how volunteering professional skills can boost your career.

Doing some good in the world with hard-earned professional skills has to be one of the more rewarding feelings in a person’s professional life. Pro Bono service can also be a career booster, says Joan Steinberg, Global Head of Philanthropy at Morgan Stanley. This year is the 10th anniversary of our pro bono program, the “Strategy Challenge,” pioneered by Morgan Stanley to give nonprofits the same kind of investment banking service global corporations get from the firm. “What we've also found is that employees participating in the Challenge accumulate skills along the way that benefit their careers,” says Steinberg.

Here are five ways Steinberg thinks pro bono service can boost your career:

1. Learn How to Lead

Pro Bono service gives employees who aren’t yet in leadership positions a chance to exercise their own propensity to take the reins.  “In the case of the Strategy Challenge, employees are placed in the driver’s seat to help set strategy for a nonprofit, at a point in their careers where they’re making the move from pure execution into strategic thinking,” explains Steinberg. The employee participants are often those who have worked on client-facing teams, but haven’t had the opportunity to lead those interactions.

2. Discover Skills You Never Knew You Had

Employees have to dig deep into their skills reserve in order to solve problems that are unique to the nonprofit. “It’s incredible to see how often people will underestimate or take for granted the skills they have, until all of a sudden they’re in a situation where they have to step up to the plate,” says Steinberg.  “One of the great things we’ve seen over the years of holding the Challenge is employees demonstrating skills that they didn’t think were strengths. It’s great to see smart talented people in a space where they can exercise those muscles and test out their abilities.”

3. Expand Your Network

Pro Bono work programs expose employees to new people both in and out of the workplace. “It gives you an opportunity to build relationships with people in other departments, as well as in the nonprofit sector, and that’s always a good idea for career progression,” says Steinberg. “We have employees who have ended up working for Managing Directors in other parts of the firm after they’ve demonstrated their skills and built up a rapport during the Challenge.”

4. Build a Personal Brand

If you’re not good at self-promotion in the office, pro bono work can build confidence by providing opportunities to put yourself forward and shine in front of others. Having community service on your resume also reflects well on a LinkedIn profile, especially if you’re looking to join mission-driven companies or large corporations like Morgan Stanley, which actively nurture a culture of giving back. “People start to associate you with certain attributes and your personal brand starts to take shape,” says Steinberg. 

5. Develop a Purpose

Having a purpose and a passion for something can completely transform the way you approach your job, and managers notice it. Take Alex Gialanella, now an Executive Director in Wealth Management’s Finance division. He participated in the Strategy Challenge as a Vice President in 2013, helping a nonprofit called Futures & Options develop a cost-benefit analysis model for its internship program for inner-city public school teenagers. He went back and persuaded  business executives to allow his department to take on three teenagers as interns. Five years later, he’s now grown the program to 15 internships every year across business groups. 

“Everyone wants to feel like they have a purpose in life,” says Steinberg. “If you’re spending the bulk of your time every week at work, then your job has to give you more satisfaction than just making a salary.”

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