A Purpose Beyond Profit

We at The PBEye spend a lot of time thinking, talking, and writing about why lawyers, law firms, and legal departments should do pro bono work.

In case you need yet another reason, check out The Business Case for Purpose, a recent global survey of 474 executives conducted by Ernst & Young and Harvard Business Review Analytics. They wanted to better understand how a strong shared sense of purpose can help companies meet new challenges and transform their organizations. (The survey defined organizational purpose as “an aspirational reason for being which inspires and provides a call to action for an organization and its partners and stakeholders and provides benefit to local and global society.”) A core insight about “purpose” is that meaning matters—not just in an abstract sense, but in terms of today’s business metrics.

The findings suggest that purpose, like pro bono, is a powerful tool:

  • Purpose matters. Eighty-nine percent of executives surveyed said a strong sense of collective purpose drives employee satisfaction.
  • Higher growth rates. Fifty-eight percent of executives who prioritized purpose said they experienced growth of 10 percent or more in the last three years.
  • Better ability to innovate. Eighty-four percent of executives agreed that shared purpose can positively affect an organization’s ability to transform; 53 percent of executives in purpose-driven companies reported that their company is successful with transformational change, compared to only 19 percent of executives in companies that do not articulate a sense of purpose.

“The sense of being part of something greater than yourself can lead to high levels of engage­ment, high levels of creativity, and the willingness to partner across . . .  boundaries within a company, which are hugely powerful,” said Rebecca Henderson, the John and Natty McArthur University Professor at Harvard Business School. “Once they’re past a certain financial threshold, many people are as motivated by intrinsic meaning and the sense that they are contributing to something worthwhile as much as they are by financial returns or status.”

For law firms, well-structured pro bono programs can, among other things, help create authentic purpose beyond profit. They not only significantly benefit the clients and communities being served, but, as The Business Case for Purpose suggests, may also contribute to profitability, capacity for transformational change, and employee engagement and satisfaction. With the corporate community increasingly acknowledging the importance of purpose, it is yet another reason for firm leaders to prioritize their pro bono programs and imbed a culture of pro bono throughout the firm.

Leave a comment and tell us about the impact that pro bono is having at your firm.

Hat tip to PBI intern Maria Vlasie for her help with this post.