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Who said doing good as a business has to stop you from raking in millions in profits?

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Pro Bono Australia is turning social conscience into healthy profits, with the Melbourne-based online publisher emerging as the go-to guide for socially – and financially – savvy organisations and individuals.

Turning traditional business principles on their heads, Pro Bono Australia has proven that “doing good” is no barrier to commercial success. New analysis by leading consultancy firm EY (formerly Ernst & Young) has revealed Pro Bono Australia generated more than $6.5 million for the Not for Profit sector last year, with a “social return investment” of $11 for every $1 spent.

Pro Bono Australia’s founder and chief executive, Karen Mahlab – renowned as a social sector innovator – said the EY assessment was positive proof of a business model honed over the past 16 years.

“Pro Bono Australia is in the extremely rare position of delivering social impact within a sustainable business model,” said Ms Mahlab, who received an Order of Australia in 2015 for her services to the community sector and philanthropic innovation.

“While many media organisations are struggling to be profitable, we have become sustainable thanks to our diversified business model.”

Pro Bono Head of Business, Matt Betts with Karen Mahlab, founder of Pro Bono Australia
Pro Bono Head of Business, Matt Betts with Karen Mahlab, founder of Pro Bono Australia

A shining beacon of social enterprise

The social sector has grown dramatically since Pro Bono Australia was established in 2000. Since then, terms such as corporate social responsibility, impact investing, social enterprise and philanthropy have become ideals of many company leaders and individuals – but few understand how to introduce them successfully.

Ms Mahlab says that is where Pro Bono Australia comes in: “We pride ourselves on being Australia’s leading hub and resource for organisations and people wanting to do good.”

The EY assessment of Pro Bono Australia was based on four key services: an online news service; webinars for company executives; the collation and publication of surveys; and VolunteerMatch, which links volunteers with Not for Profit organisations and charities.

About one million Australians use at least one of these services every year, with 50,000 subscribing to Pro Bono Australia’s news service alone. Pro Bono Australia’s website is edited by Lina Caneva, a journalist of more than three decades’ experience.

Pro Bono Australia’s head of business, Matt Betts, said: “Our reach, influence and credibility is unrivalled. We are the record keeper of all things related to this sector.”

Pro Bono Australia, Australia’s first and largest online social sector publisher, is a self-funded social enterprise.

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