Taproot

TaprootTaprootI heard great things about Taproot when I went on my research trip to the US last May. But it wasn’t until recently I managed to speak to Aaron Hurst, founder and president. Aaron won an Ashoka fellowship in 2005 for his work setting up Taproot.

Why “Taproot”? A “taproot” is the core root of a plant (picture a turnip). It gathers nutrients from lateral roots and delivers them to a plant to enable it to flourish. We see ourselves as a taproot for the nonprofit sector, drawing nutrients from the community and delivering them to nonprofits to enable them to thrive

I had been told that Taproot preminantly had cracked the three key challenges a project like Mentoring Worldwide could face. The first is in the definition of what skills we can offer, and the second is what kinds of projects and people can benefit from what we have to offer. And there is a third – how can the mentoring be done in a timely way to deliver impact when it is needed in a project This sounds simple…and I was very interested to hear what Aaron had to say about their model when we talked on the phone.

Taproot provides a range of services to eligible (and screened) non-profits in three key areas: marketing; human resources and IT. They match skilled professionals prepared to offer pro-bono work, but not as single volunteers. Rather their methodology relies on a team of five. Their team of five would consist of a dedicated Project Manager (volunteer), an Account Manager (volunteer), a member of Taproot staff to handle the schedule of work, and two or three professional according to the project in question. If you have a team, Aaron pointed out, if one drops out then the project is not in jeopardy. The team commit 1 hour a day for six months – ie a very big committment. And in his own words the learning derived from what they have done so far is that it is “process driven, not talent driven”.

I can see why this model is proven, it is highly managed which is great for the volunteers and the non-profits involved. But in the case of Taproot the team are providing a free service, like publishing a leaflet, drawing up an IT strategy, or helping an NGO with its human resources issues over six months – a big offer and a big intervention. At present MW is looking into one on one or peer-to-peer relationships which will be more dependent on the relationship than the process, albeit there will be process beneath the surface in the selection of the partnerships, training available and in some other key areas. What I take away from this really helpful conversation is the importance of screening eligible non-profits, or recipients – something which KIVA and others have already highlighted.

His approach made me think about the Media Trust in the UK , in fact, I think I will connect them up and see what happens!

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Filed under non profits, research, social enterprise

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