Pro Bono Work – Why Do It?

Whether you are a seasoned professional or just starting out, there are valid reasons for performing 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 services performed for the public good.

While it can easily be interpreted as work you are doing because you are not busy, or because you may have an ulterior motive in the belief that paid work will come as a reward, neither of these has ever been the case for me. I do pro bono work out of a moral responsibility to perform free services for a noble cause. But I have to be careful that doing so does not offend any of my paying clients in any way, some of whom are non-profit organizations. For this reason, such work is always done discreetly without fanfare or public display to garner accolades.

It is also easy to feel that such work degrades the value of your services, since you are giving away business efforts for which you are normally paid. In fact, you may even feel taken advantage of by the very ones you are attempting to help. Whether this is a justifiable concern or not, you will need to dismiss these fears in the interest of fulfilling the reason you have agreed to donate your skills in the first place, which is to contribute to the community welfare in your own special way. Your motivation for putting your best foot forward in this effort should have nothing to do with gaining fame or fortune and everything to do with offering a valuable service for which you and your company can feel proud. If anything further transpires as a result, whether public gratitude or future paying work, that should be viewed as a wonderful bonus, but certainly not to be expected.

In my earlier days, my workload was so heavy that even considering performing pro bono work was entirely out of the question. However, there were times when I had no choice and had to fit it in for political reasons, shall we say. This means that I may have been already working with an important client (aren’t all clients important?) at a prominent company in the community and one of its favorite charities needed marketing work performed for a good cause. Sometimes clients like this would pay for such services but more often than not, they hoped we would contribute our services at no charge for the benefit of all. And, of course, we would comply, keeping both client and charity very pleased.

In today’s economic environment with so many highly skilled and highly educated people out of work, you would think that the need for pro bono services would be handled by this large pool of talent. Ironically, it almost seems that if you are labeled “unemployed,” it logically follows that you may not be “qualified” or “valuable” enough as an available resource for pro bono work. While that may sadly be a common misconception, it has resulted in ongoing requests for pro bono work from our company. Since I flourish under pressure and relish client services in which I excel, these requests serve to bolster my self-esteem despite their usually coming at the last minute when I am already busy with other urgent deadlines. The reason I am flattered usually pertains to learning that they had tried to do the project themselves in-house to avoid asking for my help but had to admit there was no substitution for the inspired professionalism we deliver; hence, their late call for help.

I must explain, however, that these requests come from a non-profit source to which we have regularly donated our services over the past five years and always agree to continue without reservation. Why? First, they had initially consulted us at the recommendation of their president, a prominent realtor, with whom we were doing business at the time, for a comprehensive marketing plan for which they paid our normal going rate. They even implemented that plan over the next couple of years through other area consultants who donated their services. When they returned for further work from 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 are worthwhile:

1. The organization is a large religious group that respects diversity and believes in inclusiveness; values open discourse, 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 nourishing the hearts, souls and minds of adults and children, through the finest possible educational opportunities. Always seeking new members, the organization is one of great personal dedication and affection. For these reasons, we are honored to represent their endeavors but are not members of this organization, nor do we endorse their religion, or any religion.

2. Their projects are large, challenging and interesting which gives our work extensive visibility in the community. Typical projects have included large color ads and posters for high profile entertainers; fundraising booklets and stationery; membership brochures; signage; and an assortment of press releases. Although we donate our services, the organization pays for any necessary printing, signmaking and media space charges.

2. We are given complete freedom to express our creativity, marketing savvy and design expertise without constraints or the usual tampering typical of some “paying” clients who may have a personal agenda or inherent frustrated desire to be the “artist.”

3. Most of the members of this non-profit religious organization are successful business owners or practicing professionals who spend countless hours of their own and their families’ free time enjoying the programs and events offered and working toward the organization’s long-term success. That makes us partners working toward a common goal for which they are sincerely appreciative. As a result, some of these members hire us to perform paid marketing work for their companies on a sporadic basis. However, we never aggressively seek their business nor do we expect anything in return for our pro bono services.

4. While not something we require, we are given a free ad in their event programs which we design and submit to assure that an accurate message is delivered. Such an ad probably mostly serves as an internal reminder to the members that we are professionally involved on a pro bono basis perhaps making it easier for them to refer 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 touching stories about their love for this organization and its effects on their personal family history, much of which became the basis for initiatives we recommended.

With a total of about eighty families involved, the good will generated from our continued pro bono efforts has enormously positive reverberations within the community. This kind of gratitude is something money cannot buy. But beyond that, the satisfaction we get from seeing our good work help this organization build a better world is absolutely priceless and far outweighs the importance of any residual work we may get from its members.

So, why do pro bono work? Because it’s the right thing to do. And that is enough.

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