The Gift of Time and Skill

Employees’ grassroots ideas becomes reality, and local nonprofits benefit

The fact that Adobe encourages its employees to volunteer in their communities is nothing new. But here’s something that is new: a program that takes community involvement to the next level, backing employees with official Adobe support and immersing them in projects that put their professionals skills to work in support of important causes.

The Adobe Pro Bono Initiative, piloted in 2012, gives employees in North America the chance to partner with local nonprofit organizations to identify and complete important projects. Resource-strapped nonprofits don’t always have access to top-notch designers, videographers, and marketing professionals, but in 2013, Adobe employees donated more than $375,900 in those services through Pro Bono.

Best of all, the idea grew from the ground up.

“It was my third week on the job when this idea came to my attention,” says Julia Love, manager of corporate responsibility at Adobe. “An employee had surveyed one of the largest business units in the company and said, ‘Who’s interested in doing some pro bono work?’ The response was huge.”

Love and her team sprang into action, assembling a steering committee of employees, executives, HR and legal specialists, and experts in nonprofit consulting. After a year of careful thought and design, the Pro Bono Initiative was born.

Participating employees help nonprofit partners identify a need and plan a project. Next, they build out a team of more employees to execute the plan. It’s no small commitment; employees donate 5 – 10 hours each week.

But it’s working—on both sides. Nonprofits are getting incredible access to professional services. High-performing employees are inspired to become even higher performing employees. And the sense of satisfaction takes root within the company culture, making everyone feel like their effort really matters.

“What we heard from managers was that participating employees actually came back with higher productivity in their day jobs,” Love says. “Because when you engage someone’s passion, they put that energy into everything. And it’s infectious, so other people on their team benefit, too.”

In 2014, the Pro Bono Initiative aims to complete 15 projects and expand to Adobe sites in India and Europe. Not bad for a wild idea that started as a simple “What if?”

Petra U.
Sparking creativity in curious minds

When the Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco needed some help designing a high-tech, interactive exhibit for kids under age 5, there was no better place to turn than Adobe’s Experience Design (XD) team. The museum was quickly matched with Petra U., a program manager who had shown tremendous promise in her role. Petra assembled a team of Adobe designers and developers who dreamed up a 16’ x 8’ LED screen that responds to children’s movements through padded pressure-sensitive flooring, motion-monitoring cameras, and sound—causing big, multicolored pixels to react when children jump, run, hop, or roll on the floor.

For example, the screen might show multicolored balls on the bottom of the screen, appearing to sit on the ground. When the children jump, they can make the virtual balls “bounce.” Or they can catch one in the air and throw it to a friend. They can cause ripples in a virtual pond of color or interact with virtual creatures.

Before this, I’d never worked at a company where this kind of volunteering is encouraged. I think it’s important to give back to the community, and I really appreciate that Adobe actually wants employees to take time from their day to do this sort of thing.

This project was the first that Petra had managed from start to completion on her own.

“I’d never had to deal with budgets before, and there were several other elements that were new to me and pushed me to learn more,” Petra says. “It absolutely contributed to my growth in my job.”

But her involvement did more than give her skills to use on the job; it also helped to create more meaning in employment at Adobe.

Erik E.
Opening eyes to careers in art

The Inneract Project in San Francisco aims to solve one of the city’s problems: a lack of art and design education for inner-city youth. With classes and mentoring, the nonprofit is succeeding. But when Erik E., an Adobe video production specialist, connected with the organization through the Adobe Pro Bono Initiative, he learned that the organization needed help overcoming another major problem.

“Inneract exposes kids to a world they might not otherwise see,” Erik says. “But even though it’s a free program, they found some hesitation from parents. A lot of people haven’t been exposed to design careers, so when they think of their child going to art classes, they think their kid will grow up to be a starving, struggling artist.”

This is the first time that I’ve worked at a company where this kind of work has actually been encouraged. It gives me an opportunity to work with a nonprofit that I really believe in and also to work on my craft and take what I learn back to Adobe.

In fact, the opposite is true. Web design, product design, animation, video—companies of every kind hire scores of people with artistic skills. So Erik set to work creating a four-video series featuring interviews with innovators, creators, and designers who shared how they got to be where they are today. The videos include professionals like Robert Brunner, who designed the Beats by Dre Headphones, and Dwayne Edwards, the former design director at Nike.

The videos are set to launch this year, and they’ll become a critical part of the organization’s marketing efforts to parents who might not understand the tremendous potential of a career in art and design. Another element of the project was to train Inneract to create its own highly polished videos, so the organization can carry on the work that Erik started.

Parley D.
Helping people in hard times

Parley D., a senior account manager in Lehi, first heard about the Pro Bono Initiative through an email newsletter. It piqued his interest, and when he explored the program and learned about one of the nonprofits that needed help—a local chapter of a food bank and pantry—he was in.

“This organization’s mission is big: to end poverty,” Parley says. “But what really grabbed me was when they explained how sometimes when kids are involved, not only are they not eating well but they often become aware of the fact that mom and dad don’t have money and don’t know where their next meal will come from.”

The organization was carrying out its mission in practice every day, helping people get the food and shelter they need. But behind the scenes, the nonprofit was in need of some tools to help it operate more like a smoothly running company. In particular, it needed a marketing plan—something that defines how the organization works with the public and how it can continue funding its programs. That marketing plan is what Parley is helping to create.

It speaks volumes about the culture of Adobe and what we’re made of.

He says the project is giving him the chance to further develop skills he uses in his job every day: working with people, managing projects, and helping clients find value.

And although he acknowledges that his work is only a small contribution to a massive effort, the existence of the Pro Bono Initiative bolsters his faith in the Adobe community.

“Right from the top, leadership approves and sponsors and sustains this kind of effort, right down the people who raise their hand and say, ‘I’m in,’” Parley says. “That’s the kind of company I want to work for—the company that has an understanding that we’re all citizens of communities and we’re all in this together.”