Whether you’re a seasoned professional or just starting out, there are valid reasons to do pro bono projects if you have the time. While the term pro bono frequently refers to free legal services, it also applies to any free commercial service performed for the public good.
While it can easily be interpreted as a job that you are doing because you are not busy, or because you may have ulterior motive in the belief that paid work will come as a reward, neither of these have been the case for me. I do pro bono work out of moral responsibility to perform free services for a noble cause. But I have to be careful that doing so doesn’t offend any of my paying clients in any way, some of whom are non-profit organizations. For this reason, that work is always done discreetly, without fanfare or public display to hoard braces.
It’s also easy to feel that such work degrades the value of your services, as you are giving away business endeavors that you are normally paid for. In fact, you may even feel taken advantage of by those you are trying to help. Whether this is a justifiable concern or not, you will need to dismiss these fears for the sake of fulfilling the reason you agreed to donate your skills in the first place, which is to contribute to the well-being of the community in a special way. Your motivation to do your best in this endeavor should have nothing to do with gaining fame or fortune, but rather with providing a valuable service that you and your company can be proud of. If something else happens as a result, whether it’s public gratitude or paid work down the road, that should be seen as a wonderful bonus, but it’s certainly not to be expected.
In my early days, my workload was so heavy that even considering pro bono work was completely out of the question. However, there were times when I had no other choice and had to fit it in for political reasons, let’s say. This means that you may have already been working with a major client (aren’t all clients important?) At a prominent community company and one of your favorite charities, you needed to do marketing work for a good cause. Sometimes clients like this would pay for such services, but most of the time, they expected us to contribute our services free of charge for the benefit of all. And of course we will deliver, keeping both the customer and the charity very happy.
In an economic environment with so many highly skilled and highly educated jobless people, you would think that the need for pro bono services would be handled by this great pool of talent. Ironically, it almost seems that if you are labeled “unemployed,” it logically follows that you may not be sufficiently “qualified” or “valuable” as an available resource for pro bono work. While sadly that may be a common misconception, it has resulted in ongoing requests for pro bono work from our company. Since I flourish under pressure and enjoy the customer services I excel at, these requests serve to bolster my self-esteem even though they usually come at the last minute when I’m already busy with other pressing deadlines. The reason I’m flattered usually has to do with knowing that they had tried to do the project themselves to avoid asking for my help, but they had to admit that there was no substitute for the inspired professionalism we provide; hence his belated call for help.
I must explain, however, that these requests come from a non-profit source to which we have regularly donated our services for the last five years and we always agree to continue without reservation. Why? First, they had initially consulted us on the recommendation of their president, a prominent real estate agent, with whom we were doing business at the time, for a comprehensive marketing plan for which they paid our normal fee. They even implemented that plan for the next two years through other area consultants who donated their services. When they returned to continue working with us, we offered to continue on a pro bono basis. We clearly recognize that there are a number of good reasons why our pro bono efforts on behalf of this organization pay off:
1. The organization is a large religious group that respects diversity and believes in inclusion; values open speech and strives for fairness in every way. They are committed to repairing the world, a responsibility that shapes their belief that social justice begins within the community. Finally, they emphasize the importance of nurturing the hearts, souls, and minds of adults and children, through the best possible educational opportunities. Always looking for new members, the organization is one of great dedication and personal affection. For these reasons, we are honored to represent your efforts, but we are not members of this organization, nor do we endorse your religion or any religion.
2. Your projects are large, challenging and interesting which gives our work wide visibility in the community. Typical projects have included large color billboards and posters for high profile artists; brochures and stationery for fundraising; membership brochures; signage and a variety of press releases. Although we donate our services, the organization pays the necessary expenses for printing, signage and space for the media.
2. We are given complete freedom to express our creativity, marketing know-how and design expertise without restriction or the usual manipulation typical of some “paying” clients who may have a personal agenda or an inherent frustrated desire to be the “artist” .
3. Most of the members of this religious non-profit organization are successful business owners or practicing professionals who spend countless hours of their free time and that of their families enjoying the programs and events offered and working towards success through long term of the organization. That makes us partners working towards a common goal for which they are sincerely grateful. As a result, some of these members hire us to do paid marketing work for their companies on a sporadic basis. However, we never aggressively pursue your business or expect anything in return for our pro bono services.
4. While not something we require, we are given a free advertisement on your event schedules that we design and send to ensure an accurate message is delivered. Such an announcement will likely serve primarily as an internal reminder to members that we are professionally involved on a pro bono basis, perhaps making it easier for them to recommend us, if appropriate.
We realized long ago that a special bond had been forged with many members of this congregation as a result of extensive research we did to prepare their initial marketing plan. We learned many moving stories about his love for this organization and its effects on his personal family history, many of which became the basis for the initiatives we recommend.
With a total of approximately eighty families involved, the goodwill generated by our continued pro bono efforts has hugely positive repercussions within the community. This kind of gratitude is something that money cannot buy. But beyond that, the satisfaction we get from seeing that our good work helps this organization build a better world is absolutely invaluable and far outweighs the importance of any residual work that we may obtain from its members.
So why work pro bono? Because it’s the right thing to do. And that is enough.