By Melinda Kunjasich, Director of Services at Pro Bono Economics

When Pro Bono Economics was founded in 2009, the concept was a simple one. There were economists who were keen to volunteer with charities and there were charities that needed their expertise – why not match them? This was at a time when the impact of the 2008 financial crisis was becoming increasingly clear and economists hadn’t come out of the situation smelling of roses. What better way to help with that image problem than by having economists helping their communities?

In the early PBE days, volunteers were matched to charities with a wide range of support requests – and that support could be anything from ad hoc data requests that lasted a couple of days to complex projects that lasted a few years.

Fast forward 11 years to the Covid crisis. PBE wanted to help more charities, many of which we knew would be devastated by the crisis both from a delivery and fundraising perspective. But we didn’t have the capacity to deliver any more of our standard projects as those projects are resource intensive, run for 12 to 18 months and we were already stretched – so how could we help? Then a thought came to us… could we go back to our roots and provide the ad hoc data support that we did in the early years?

Step One – the economists. We had a hunch that many of our (then) 600+ registered volunteer economists would be keen to volunteer their skills to help charities during that challenging time, just as they did back in 2009. So we asked them and their answer was yes. Over a third immediately put their hands up to hear about Covid volunteer opportunities.

Step Two – the charities. Our second hunch was that there would be many charities that needed flexible support from skilled volunteers. So we asked them too, and their answer was also yes.

So we launched our new Data First Aid service a mere three weeks after lockdown commenced in 2020. There was a steady stream of charity support requests over the coming months that we were able to match enthusiastic volunteers to. I had previously only seen our economists volunteer their time to provide economic evaluations to the charities but with this new service, I began to understand what other kinds of support our volunteers could provide. And the support was really varied – from researching the current factors that impact the charity’s beneficiaries to organising a volunteer rota spreadsheet to visualising data on the number of young people reached by a charity that year.

When we considered the glowing feedback from the charities with the positive comments from our volunteers, we knew it made sense to include it as a permanent part of our suite of the ways that PBE can support charities. We are really excited to be relaunching the Data First Aid service this week!

Data First Aid applications are now open. Charities can learn more about the service and apply for support here.