Real Leaders

How Pro Bono Work can Seriously Grow Your Business

I recently joined the board of Business for Good – a nonprofit that unites small business owners in San Diego to drive policy that improves our community.

BFG believes that since small business dominates San Diego County, our city’s policies should represent the core values of tax-paying, conscious-minded small business owners like myself rather than just the two Fortune 500 companies here. (Novel concept, I know.)

To help grow BFG and expand its mission, my B Corp-certified creative agency, Visceral, is excited to be doing our first significant pro bono project for them: creating an updated brand and website, which will launch in fall 2019.

Besides the apparent benefits of pro bono work – like feeling awesome about helping others and getting involved in the community – businesses stand to gain a lot from undertaking voluntary work.

Here are some ways I’ve learned pro bono projects can create substantial value for your business.

• Employee retention – In particular, younger people in the workforce are not satisfied with just having a job. They want to be part of something grander; an effort that will change the world for the better in a tangible way. Visceral is lucky in that all of our clients are organizations with a social purpose. But that’s not always the case for all companies. Pro bono work for socially conscious organizations proves to your staff that you share their belief in making a positive impact.

• Train junior staff – Professional development, conferences, training, and workshops are all super valuable, but they can also be super expensive. I know that small businesses don’t always have the budget they wish they did for these things. But with pro bono work, you get the chance to train junior staff on your turf, in ways aligned with your organization’s values and methods. This allows you to build out onboarding and training programs (something often missing in today’s fast-paced business culture) where junior staff can take the lead on pro bono projects without much risk at all.

• Easier networking and free exposure – This one can be a little contentious in my line of work because people are very often asked to work for free in exchange for “exposure.” While this may initially sound like an excellent opportunity, it’s generally not a good idea because let’s be real – we all have bills to pay, and exposure doesn’t pay them. This is especially true when that ask comes from a profitable organization that’s just trying to exploit you for free labor. However, pro bono work is the one exception to this rule. When you’re doing free work that you believe in for an organization that’s making a positive impact in your community, you can leverage that to build your brand awareness in a very authentic way.

• Break into new sectors – We’ve all had that fantasy client who we’re just dying to partner with, but they’re in an industry we’ve not yet worked in. Pro bono work is a fantastic way to get your “in.” Delivering great work in that desired sector gives you a case study to add to your portfolio while building new relationships in that area you want to grow your business in.

• Trust & Values – What do you care about? What are your core personal and professional values? As small business owners with genuine budget constraints and never-ending expenses, we don’t always get to choose clients that completely align with these values. But pro bono projects give you the chance to do that, and a platform on which to demonstrate your values to a community of potential clients. It also revitalizes your approach to your work and reminds why you do it in the first place.

• Knowledge-building – Building out new products or service offerings can be a crucial part of small business growth. But, again, it can require a hefty upfront investment and might be difficult to market during the early stages. Pro bono clients can be your foray into these uncharted waters (a point you must be 100% clear with them about), helping you flesh out your pilot projects and build a significant experience that will help you roll them out down the line.

As small business owners, it can no doubt be challenging to carve out the time and resources for pro bono projects. I get it. It took Visceral 13 years to be able to do our first major one.

But I must say, the incredible knowledge and leadership insight you gain – not to mention those warm, fuzzy feelings – makes pro bono work one of the most valuable things you can do to help grow your business.

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