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19 October 2023    |    Blog

Pro bono or no-no?

Text messages at 8am on a Saturday are an absolute no-no so make sure that you set clear boundaries with your pro bono clients

I’ve informally offered pro bono consultancy throughout my whole career. There have been many of those ‘pick your brains’ calls and requests for a ‘quick look over’ that strategy document or grant application. And of course, there’s been more substantial and long term offers of support for those causes that are close to my heart.

Pro bono support is central to our model at Fair Collective. As a social enterprise, 50% of our profits are invested in providing free consultancy and training to super small organisations. Over the years, experience has taught us how to get the best out of our pro bono offer.

Here are my top tips:-

1. Create an application process

As you can imagine, when we offer pro bono work, we’re often inundated. There is a bottomless pit of need but because we can’t support everyone, we use an application process to gauge which organisations are ready for pro bono support (and to weed out those who aren’t committed enough to complete an application).

Unfortunately, we have had plenty of pro bono experience where the organisation disengages or doesn’t fully commit to the process. That’s simply a waste of everyone’s limited time.

2. Get to the bottom of what they really need

As is also often the case with paid work, an organisation will sometimes come to us with a fundraising problem, which turns out to be a strategy or programmes delivery problem. So, before we embark on a pro bono project, we spend time doing a proper diagnosis of the issues and discuss what the best use of our time would be. Ultimately, this often means that we offer something quite different to the thing our pro bono client initially asked for, but that’s in everyone’s best interest.

3. Create and hold clear boundaries

Text messages at 8am on a Saturday are an absolute no-no so make sure that you set clear boundaries with your pro bono clients. When can they get a hold of you and how? What is the clear scope of the work you’re doing together? It’s very easy to let the scope creep on pro bono projects so having the deliverables clearly articulated and agreed is essential.

 4. Just because it’s free, doesn’t mean it’s not as good

We have a code of conduct at Fair Collective which promises that we will be provide a service to our pro bono clients which is equal to that of our paid work. And we hold to that quality promise.

Yes, it can be tempting to de-prioritise a pro bono client over a paying client, especially if you’re overcommitted and up against it. But it is on you to make sure this doesn’t happen. Letting down a pro bono client breaks trust and shows them just where your priorities lie. Be sure to give them the same stellar treatment as your paid clients.

5.  Keep learning

My final tip is to always keep learning and adapting. Listen to your pro bono clients and change your offer as needed.

Vic Hancock Fell, Fair Collective

You can find out more about Fair Collective’s social enterprise model and our approach to pro bono work, here.