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Often times, when you think of pro bono volunteering, you think of professional services and law firms. Retail and product companies have just as much to offer in terms of skills and talent to nonprofits as they do great products to consumers. One company whose name, brand and products we all know well, Gap Inc., is among Taproot's list of socially conscious companies to watch:
Gap Inc.’s commitment to community investment dates back to its founding in 1969 with Doris and Don Fisher’s original vision to build community involvement into the very fabric of Gap Inc. culture. In recent years, Gap Inc. has taken their strong foundation of community investment to the next level, realizing the potential of combining financial donations with employees’ skills and other corporate assets by placing skills-based volunteerism at the core of their giving strategy through a growing variety of skilled volunteering and, most recently, pro bono service opportunities. Through signature programs like “This Way Ahead”, bringing their youth-focused nonprofit partners together with the Gap Foundation, Gap Inc. Learning & Development staff, and the staff of retail stores across their brands to support career-readiness initiatives, Gap Inc. has taken a comprehensive approach to serving their community and building the capacity of their nonprofit partners, placing them at the forefront of corporate philanthropy.Gail Gershon, Director, Employee Engagement, Gap Foundation
Gail Gershon, Gap Foundation's Director of Employee Engagement, sheds more light on how their company and employees give back and why.
Sokunthea: As a retail company, people may not as easily understand how Gap Inc.'s employees can offer professional pro bono services. Can you share how companies similar to yours can also give back through pro bono and skills-based volunteering?
Gail: We encourage other companies to think about what sets them apart: is there a particular skill set or competency they’re especially proud of, and how do those competencies overlay with their industry, employee base and customer? At Gap Inc., our corporate culture places a high premium on learning and development. We also have a young employee population and LOTS of employees. So we looked at these two factors as assets that we could leverage in our community investment work and developed a program that focuses on helping young people get ready for the world of work.
Sokunthea: How is Gap Inc.’s commitment to CSR not only good for the community but good for your business?
Gail: We’re very transparent about our “collective benefit” approach and believe that for programs to be truly sustainable and stand the test of time, they should be good for both the community and for business. Pro bono and skills-based volunteerism are good for a number of reasons, including:
- they’re cost-effective ways for employees to learn new skills
- they provide meaningful, fulfilling experiences that, when well organized, make employees feel that they experienced the maximum return on their investment of time
- employees feel more connected to the community where they work and better understand their customers and markets
- employees feel good about the company that they work for
Sokunthea: Can you share with us your favorite example or project you’ve undertaken in the past year?
Gail: The program described in the Gap Inc. profile on the PBAT website, This Way Ahead, has been one of the most exciting programs I’ve been involved with in my 14 years at Gap Inc. We’ve seen youth gain new levels of confidence and responsibility, and they see a different, brighter future for themselves than they did prior to program participation.