Most of us know that pro bono is a phrase derived from Latin meaning “For the public good”. In certain sectors, like the legal profession doing pro bono work is quite common. The same for the charitable sector.
I have always done quite a lot of pro bono work because I find it rewarding to give back to the sector that does so much good work and also allows me to run a successful business doing what I love most.
There is however, a dark side to pro bono work that I would like to discuss.
Somewhere along the line, the phrase “pro bono” turned into “doing it for free”. Obviously the act of doing something for the public good and lending your professional skills denotes not accepting payment… but who decided that it was “free”?
Think of some things in life we get for “free”… Most of them – have little or no value (hence being able to get them for free). How did this get associated with doing work “pro bono”.
I’ve discussed this issue at length with colleagues of mine, most who no longer do pro bono work. Why?
Because the work and skills they provided were unappreciated, unacknowledged, unreciprocated, and often taken advantage of.
Think of it this way. Think of a person or organization you are asking to do something “pro bono” for you as one of your most important donors. We all know that you must treat your most important donors as the most special people in the world. They give their money, their time, their voice to your charity. They can be your biggest champion if treated the right way.
I do speak from experience. I have a had one or two positive experiences from lending my design and fundraising knowledge to a charity. But most of the time, it has left me with a bad taste in my mouth. And I know a number of very talented professionals who have now sworn off pro bono work because they have had bad experiences time and time again.
We work in a sector that needs all the help it can get. If you had a donor give you $5000 and you didn’t bend over backwards to make them feel thanked and appreciated… you can imagine what would happen to that donor.
If part of your job is working with either donors, volunteers or professionals who are lending their expertise for the public good, make sure thanking and acknowledging them is at the top of your list every day.