Why Pro Bono Works

Someone once told me, in order to do really creative work and to get your agency noticed, you should do pro bono. I wondered to myself, as jaded as you can become in advertising, can you truly believe that free work is the only way to do good work? Well, the answer is obviously no. There is plenty of great work out there that is paid for. But it is also true that work for nonprofits has the highest winning percentage at advertising and PR award shows. So, it does get you noticed.

I find no fault with that outlook. When thinking about pro bono, creatives hope for a no-limits kind of client. An attitude of, well they aren't paying for it so they'll take what we bring them... go bonkers. It's one of the reasons I have enjoyed pro bono assignments in the past -- doing outstanding work -- but I hoped, wanted to find something in it that was less self-interested.

So on my push, our agency began considering more non-profit projects. This isn't a tutorial but I must share one piece of advice. Vet the organization you are considering working with and vet them hard. Make sure that you like their team and their team likes you. Chemistry isn't just important with paying clients.

Because what I realized recently while working with a nonprofit on a branding assignment is -- the actual working process is one of the most rewarding parts.

There is a lot less teeth pulling. There is much more teamwork. And this intense relationship building between well-intentioned people grows meeting after meeting. Every person in the room really wants to be putting in the time and energy to create something great. Not for themselves but for the nonprofit.

In the end, pro bono shouldn't be about the awards or credit your agency gets. It's about the results for the organization because nobody is forcing you to work for free. The work should be about the organization that had no idea they would have a new brand a few months prior. It's about the child soldiers and orphans in Africa who can't wait for the new logo for their school. And for you, it's about feeling a certain type of contentment that you aren't typically rewarded with.

This is clearly my experience and is certainly dependent upon who you are working with. But that comes with the territory about pretty much anything in life. So risk it, do something pro bono that isn't only about a cool piece of creative you can add to your agency's portfolio. Hopefully, if you do it right, you'll just get that too.