To pro bono or not to pro bono?

"Opportunities Sarah is looking for: skills-based volunteering (pro bono consulting)"

"Skill-based volunteering" and "pro bono work" are trending among top professionals and firms, whether it's driven by their passion for the cause or for CSR and corporate brand positioning purposes. The reason does not matter in the end, as long as the work done is of a high quality and relevant to the non-profit or other organization in need.

Obviously, pro bono work greatly benefits organizations that need advice to grow, but are not in a financial state to pay for expensive professional services. For companies stuck in a Catch-22 like this, consultants that offer pro bono services are saviours. However, pro bono consulting benefits more than just the company that receives the services.

Many seasoned business consultants offer pro bono services to give back to a long-term client, support a not-for-profit organization they respect or polish up a newly acquired skill, while fresh, thriving consultants do pro bono work to gain experience and credibility.

As we can see, pro bono is also greatly beneficial to the professional providing the service.

What prevents people from doing pro bono work?

  1. Financial resources:

    Obviously, money plays a part in the decision to offer your services 'for free' (in the traditional meaning of the word, anyway). "I need to earn an income" is a pretty legitimate reason to choose not to concentrate on providing too many of your services "pro bono".

  2. No clear personal benefit:

    You may be extremely passionate about homeless animals or educating children about environmental sustainability. While this altruistic motivation will keep you excited and passionate to work, at some point in time, when times get tough, it will be hard to keep going unless you have another, more personal reason.

    Humans are wired to be selfish - it is a survival instinct. Hence, like with anything in life, you need to be benefitting from your pro bono work. When agreeing to do pro bono work, always remember to find mutual benefits - for both you and your client.

  3. Burn out:

    Even if you are the most productive person in the world, you only have 24 hours in a day. Unless you managed to find a way to be in two places at once (in which case, please share your secret!), there are only so many clients to can work with every week.

    No matter how big and generous your heart is, there is such a thing too many pro bono projects. Many consultants burn out from trying to do too much. When you have a lot of high-demand and paying projects, it may not be the best time to take on 3 more pro bono clients.

  4. Maintaining reputation:

    Another factor that many consultants take into consideration is their reputation or personal brand. Having a certain reputation can be important for your career, and it is easy to be known for something that is less than desirable for your next career move.

    Sometimes, doing pro bono work for a non-profit can benefit your reputation. At other times, it might do the complete opposite. Evaluate your options, their consequences, and be smart about it.

  5. All of the above:

    Naturally, when making the decision whether or not to provide pro bono services, people consider many factors. There is always an appropriate time to offer and not offer pro bono work, of course. But let's consider the case of making the decision broad decision of whether to ever offer pro bono services.

    While sometimes, there may be a legitimate reason for deciding not to offer pro bono services, a lot of the time, we all find excuses. "I don't have time"..."I'm worth more than that"..."I've learned all there is to learn in this industry"...

    Deep down we know that these voices are probably wrong.

    If you want to find time, re-evaluate your priorities and make some. If you think you should be getting paid more, find something that would pay you more, or find something that you love doing so much that it doesn't even matter. If you want to find something new to learn, just keep an open mind.

So, "to pro bono or not to pro bono?", you ask?

Did you put it on your LinkedIn profile? There's your answer.