What’s wrong with pro-bono work for nonprofits?

Here’s a question more people should ask, from the Good Agency blog: Pro bono. Where’s the bono?

… it’s not pro bono if there is no bono — no actual good. No new donors, campaigners or volunteers. No new services funded or vulnerable people reached. No research paid for or hungry mouths fed.

Ad agencies and marketing companies like to do pro-bono work for nonprofits. It’s a chance to bulk up their portfolios. (And who knows, maybe some of them just want to do good deeds.)

It turns out free work is worth about what it costs you: nothing.

If someone does a really cool project that makes you say ooh but lays an egg in the donor marketplace, you’ve taken a bigger hit than you might think…

The most common and uncounted cost is opportunity cost — hours spent managing a dealing with a pro bono project that could have been spent doing something productive.

Then there’s damage that can be done to your brand by heedless work that’s driven by creative whim.

Just take a run through this shop of horrors and you’ll see how badly things can go awry. And that free doesn’t necessarily mean good. Or even free.


Comments

8 responses to “What’s wrong with pro-bono work for nonprofits?”

  1. Pro bono also enforces the myth that nonprofits need to get everything for free. It’s healthy for a nonprofit to invest in itself and its staff.

  2. Pro bono also enforces the myth that nonprofits need to get everything for free. It’s healthy for a nonprofit to invest in itself and its staff.

  3. Claire R Avatar
    Claire R

    Hi, Link to Good Agency Article is broken – do you have another way to share it?

  4. Claire R Avatar
    Claire R

    Hi, Link to Good Agency Article is broken – do you have another way to share it?

  5. Well said! It’s very unlikely that the agency is going to deliver the service it would to a paying client (nor should they, necessarily – they’re working for free).
    It’s for this reason we almost always decline requests for pro bono help. Not only is it bad for our business, but we know that we probably won’t be able to give the client the attention they deserve. And then it’s a lose-lose for everyone …

  6. Well said! It’s very unlikely that the agency is going to deliver the service it would to a paying client (nor should they, necessarily – they’re working for free).
    It’s for this reason we almost always decline requests for pro bono help. Not only is it bad for our business, but we know that we probably won’t be able to give the client the attention they deserve. And then it’s a lose-lose for everyone …

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.