We all know how important volunteering is, to organizations, to us individually, and to our careers. I am also a strong advocate for volunteering, but recently discovered a very specific way to volunteer – pro bono work – as a way to help myself professionally, while serving an organization’s mission.
Pro bono work is often associated with lawyers or experts donating their time to public cases. But, did you know that any professional can donate their time and expertise? Unlike traditional volunteerism, pro bono work allows professionals to offer their skills to nonprofits who otherwise might not be able to afford them, specifically in areas like capacity building and business strategies.
Pro bono services donated by professionals are incredibly valuable to nonprofits. For example, the FiXit Foundation, a nonprofit organization with the mission to end the companion animal overpopulation crisis and reduce the number of animals euthanized in shelters, benefits immensely from pro bono service. According to Stephanie Downs, President of the Board, “FiXiT would not be able to do our work without these donated skills. From videographers to editors to project managers, we have been able to leverage people’s best skills to help further our mission.”
I began my own pro bono journey during a recent career transition. I wanted to volunteer my time but I also wanted to build my resume and portfolio, specifically utilizing very specialized skills, before launching an intensive job search as a way to get reenergized while serving a mission for which I was passionate.
After searching through a variety of volunteer websites, only to find a few one-time volunteer opportunities, I stumbled upon Catchafire, a website promoting pro bono service to civically minded professionals. I applied, interviewed, found a great pro bono opportunity with a passionate organization, and benefited personally and professionally through pro bono service. The organization also benefited from free labor that they otherwise couldn’t afford – a win-win!
Here’s how to get started in your pro bono adventure:
- Consider what skills and expertise that you have to provide. As a pro bono professional, you are the expert, which means that you are proficient and experienced in this work. It doesn’t take decades of experience, but you should be able to provide evidence of your success and samples of your work. Consider your artistic, technical, organizational, and communication skills.
- Take advantage of matchmakers. Explore organizations that help professionals discover and secure pro bono opportunities, like Taproot, Catchafire, or Voolla. You may also consider nonprofits that you are already familiar with. Reach out and propose your interest in serving pro bono. Provide a detailed plan and information on how you can serve their mission with your expert skills and interests.
- Make sure the benefit is reciprocal. Remember that pro bono service can’t just benefit you; the organization you intend to service also needs to benefit. It may take time to find an organization that needs your exact skills and services during the time of contact. Be patient and search around.
- Be clear about what you can offer. Consider how much time you are willing to provide. How many hours a week or month can you provide? How long are you willing to serve? Does your expertise allow for you to serve at one time or on an as-needed basis?
- Talk it out. Set up some time to speak over the phone or meet in person to discuss your pro bono services with the organization’s representative. Write down questions in advance. Prepare some items that you want to share about yourself or samples of your work. Ensure that you understand the organization’s mission and current activities or programs.
- Put it in writing. Once your pro bono experience is secured, prepare an outline of your “terms and conditions” for your service provider to review. Consider deadlines, bench marks, term of service, and how you will communicate with each other. Edit and revise the document until both you and the organization are comfortable with the conditions.
- Stay connected! Remember that your professional service is an extension of your name and career. Communicate with your pro bono provider in a professional manner. Follow up as needed and stay engaged with your representative until your service is complete. Ask for feedback. As the expert, provide feedback. It’s important to leave a positive impact and represent yourself well.
Pro bono service is an excellent way to volunteer your time during a career transition. It allows you to enhance your resume and portfolio and make some great connections in the nonprofit sector.
Katie Mang is a volunteer coordinator for MuckFest MS and member of the professional volunteer team for Voolla, Inc. You can chat with Katie about all things pro Bono and volunteering on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.