Revisiting Pro Bono: Professionals to Non-Profits

Ten years ago I wrote a piece called “Pro Bono No Bueno?” It was a guideline for successful pro bono projects for both the graphic designer and the client. It was relevant then. It still is today. I know this because for more than a decade I’ve taken on free or highly discounted projects and learned—sometimes the hard way—what does and doesn’t work. I’ve also realized non-profits, being the biggest recipients of pro bono, are unique entities requiring unique care.

Pro Bono Offers Reciprocal Relationship

Pro bono refers to professional work done voluntarily and without payment. The Latin phrase “pro bono publico” translates as “for the public good” and many professionals find volunteering their work to be a way of giving back to the community. In turn, nonprofits strapped with tight budgets look to pro bono as a way of achieving their goals. The coming together of professionals and non-profits can be a win-win for both, provided they are careful managers of the project.

I love working with non-profits and want to offer my best. Here’s my take for managing a project that’s successful for everyone.

1. Define Project Scope

Pro Bono is most time-effective and successful when the project adheres to a clearly defined scope.

Non-Profits: This starts with you. Determine in advance what exactly you need and why. Also when you need it and how you wish to receive it. The professional needs to know every detail up front to determine if they have the time or expertise for the work. By the way, the book “Powered by Pro Bono,” is an excellent read for non-profits planning a pro bono project.

My Policy: I now provide an application for non-profits to complete before agreeing to a project. This helps them organize their needs and their organizational structure. I then draw up a working agreement, clearly itemizing the project and its parameters. I also list the monetary value of the project so they fully understand what they are receiving and can include this in their financial reports.

2. Communicate!

Pro Bono for non-profits requires good communication (as much as paying clients, maybe even more).

Non-Profits: Non-profits are often committee based, usually comprised of volunteers. Yes, this can be challenging. But it’s also easily handled with specified communication plans. How will you meet? How often? How will you communicate outside meetings? Determine who will represent your committee and serve as spokesperson to the professional. Be timely in all your communication. The more of your organization you share with the professional, the better they know you and the better the outcome of your project.

My Policy: I love getting to know your organization. I love tours of your facility and meeting your members. That said, outside of initial project planning, there is no need for me to attend your committee’s regularly scheduled meetings. I respect your need to discuss the project outside my presence and I work best with instruction from one spokesperson. My chosen communication is email and I consider it “documented information.”

3. Be Professional

Pro bono projects are more successful when there is mutual respect. You for me. Me for you.

Non-Profits: Work with a professional that is a good match to your organization. Understand and appreciate what the professional is offering. If the agency is small, working pro bono takes them away from paid opportunities. Fulfill your responsibilities. Meet your deadlines. Offer honest and constructive feedback. Keep the project within its scope.

My Policy: In order to offer my best work, I now only consider pro bono projects that match my passions and expertise. I learn everything there is to know about the organization and their work. I become their strong advocate and boldly promote them. Many of my closest friends and business professionals are people I’ve met while doing pro-bono projects.

Are you a non-profit looking for pro bono work? I’ll be opening up for applications soon. Stay tuned!

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