Pro-bono: Why you should consider giving away your services and how to do it smartly

Whether you’re a newbie in the marketplace, or you’re a well-known commodity, you’ll get requests for pro-bono work. Pro-bono is officially defined as doing work “for the public good,” but what it really means is volunteering your time, and often your supplies and your staff and “giving it away” or providing work that’s “on the house.”

Some folks give it away to a non-profit organization or a charity that they’re already involved with as a volunteer or board member. It’s part of the board of directors’ mantra. “Doer, Donor, Door-Opener.”

David Pakman, managing director of Vivid Edge Media, a Northampton, MA, small business specializing in audio and video production (including production of the nationally-syndicated progressive multi-platform “The David Pakman Show”) has done several pro-bono videos for local non-profits. “It either has to be a cause that personally resonates with me and my staff or a project that would benefit the visibility of Vivid Edge Media (particularly if I’m paying my staff),” he said. “I don’t put a price tag on the project for a non-profit (unless they need one for tax purposes), but I’m very clear about what’s covered and what’s not.”

Some folks use pro bono work as a tool for networking and for breaking into a niche marketplace, in the hopes that their work will be seen, and the visibility will result in referrals.

Some folks feel it’s important to give something back to their community, and providing services to a needy organization is a contribution towards “the greater good.” Gerry LeBlanc, owner of GerryLeBlanc.com, the New England-based internetology company, likes the feeling of “giving back to the community, especially to music groups. Music is my passion.” But, Gerry doesn’t do pro-bono work “without knowing a sense of purpose, the parameters of start date and end date, and a clear mission of the organization and the project.”

In other words, give smart.

1. Choose the recipient of your expertise carefully. Is it a solid organization? Is it a truly worthy cause? Will your affiliation with them enhance your cache in the marketplace? Can they pay (in advance or in a timely fashion) for out-of-pocket? Be wary of an affiliation with a controversial group that might raise an eyebrow among your current clients and/or your marketplace (i.e. anything political).

2. Define the conditions, timelines, budgets and the parameters of your pro-bono work. What’s free? (Your creative input? Your time spent on a project?) What’s not? (Your out-of-pocket expenses? Your staff and vendors salaries and payments?). Budget the project as though you’re working for a paying client. Present the budget total, what you can contribute, and what the client will pay.

Chris Landry, owner of the Northampton, MA-based Landry Communications, came to the world of communications after a distinguished career in development and fundraising with non-profits from The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and Historic Deerfield to The Sustainable Food Lab and The Children’s Museum of Holyoke.

“I do pro-bono projects for non-profits where I’m on the board,” he said. “I want to make a difference in the community, so I provide time and expertise on a board. But, when I worked with non-profits, I felt that projects were better done and people felt better about partnerships, when money changed hands. So, I may discount a project for a non-profit and provide some free expertise, but my people get paid and they take more pride in their work.”

3. How will your pro-bono work be recognized? If you design a brochure, can you put a byline “designed by Me and My Company?” If there’s a playbill, can you get a credit? Will the recipient of your expertise thank you on their website, Facebook or other public venue?

I’ve given my expertise and time away to non-profits near and dear to my heart. When the AIDS epidemic exploded in Western Massachusetts, I volunteered to help DIFFA, The Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS, raise monies in Western Massachusetts for local AIDS service organization. The giveback was a network of local designers and creative industries types who have provided me referrals just as I’ve

provided them with referrals. One in a series of pro-bono projects with happy endings.

I’m the first to answer the call when my alma mater, Northfield Mount Hermon, needs help, whether it’s organizing a class reunion, helping an archivist set-up and monitor a Facebook page, or some other marketing or public relations need. In turn, my school has given my name to other potential clients, and my classmates also refer business my way. Two in a series of pro-bono projects with happy endings.

I’ll continue to give, and encourage others to give as well. Pro-bono work and volunteerism strengthen and fortify a community. Give of yourself cautiously, so you and your business benefit from your generosity.

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Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn.

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