Got that volunteering itch, but not convinced that painting or envelope-stuffing is the best use of your skills? Donating your professional skills pro bono can give you the perfect opportunity to put your talents to work in your community, and can be rewarding for you career-wise as well.
But don’t get ahead of yourself! Managing client work is complex, and pro bono clients will be no different. Before you dive in and change the world with your masterful copywriting, finance, or design skills, take a step back and prepare yourself for the ride. Follow these five easy steps to setting up the perfect pro bono project:
1. Follow Your Passion
Just like your day job, pro bono work is a much more rewarding experience if you’re passionate about what you’re doing. If you’re a lover of the arts, find a small theatre or dance company and build a relationship. Not sure where to start? Think back to your extracurricular activities in college. If you were editor-in-chief of your college magazine, check out the local chapter of an 826 writing centre. If you were more of an environmentalist, try finding a “green” organisation in your community. You can go to Idealist to check out local nonprofits and social change organisations in your area.
2. Build the Relationship
Think of the organisation you want to work with as a client. You may not be asking for money, but all the other basic tenets of client relationships apply.
It’ll be easiest to work with an organisation with whom you already have a connection. If you volunteer with a nonprofit, that’s a fantastic start. Get in touch with their staff and set up a meeting to talk about how you can become further involved. Otherwise, network! Try asking your employer, colleagues, or friends if they have pre-existing relationships with local nonprofits or community organisations, and have them make the introduction.
3. Get to know your client
Before you jump in, get to know your client a little better. Figure out where your skills could be useful. Attend one of their events, visit their offices, and meet with their management team. Ask to see their budget, annual report, and Form 990 (a reporting document for public charities required by the IRS) to make sure that they are in a good position to accept your services. They will appreciate your commitment to understanding their situation and assessing their needs.
During all this, start discussing potential projects you might take on and get a sense for how they would be received. Also, if you’re a novice, consider finding out if the organisation has experience managing volunteers, which can go a long way to setting you up for success.
4. Compare Schedules
Draft a timeline and compare your schedules: is this the right time? If they have a gala next month, this probably isn’t the best time to start a rebranding.
Keep in mind that while you may have carved out the time to do the work, you’ll still need feedback and support. Identify who your main contact will be, and make sure he or she will be available and attentive to your needs.
5. Project Time!
Once you’ve vetted your clients and found a good fit, plan to meet with key people in the organisation to discuss their specific needs. Think of this like a third date. Don’t commit too much.
Design and scope a project that has a realistic timeline and deliverables, and make sure everyone is on the same page. If you’re doing background market research, make sure everyone knows you’re not going to redesign their logo. And don’t be afraid to say no, even to an organisation you like. If your clients want you to run a PR campaign, but your background and interests are in web design, you’re under no obligation to do it.
Once you’ve laid the groundwork, it’s time to get started. Make sure you keep up the communication, and of course, show them what you’re made of!
Have a blast!
Read more from PYP
The advantages of pro bono volunteering: “Giving Back: Help Your Community & Career“