What's Good About Pro Bono?

Plenty! Pro bono, the Latin phrase that literally translates as “for the good,” has come to mean any service done without compensation for the public good. In the advertising and marketing industry, it typically refers to agencies donating time and materials to assist organizations or institutions that are not-for-profit, and who often have little budget to dedicate to promotional efforts, fundraising or advertising.

At some point in their existence, all (good) agencies are approached by non-profit groups seeking pro bono help. Some agencies are bombarded by such requests, and end up refusing all comers to avoid offending community leaders and to prevent over-committing valuable time to work that may earn agency goodwill, but doesn’t pay the overhead.

Historically speaking, some great agencies have employed pro bono work as a strategic tool for enhancing their creative reputations—most famously, Fallon McElligott of Minneapolis in the 1980s. Other agencies selectively choose to do pro bono work out of simple altruism. Still other agencies dip their toes in the water, only to get a dunking from working with “clients” who are not marketing-savvy, and often unrealistic about what can be done with the allotted time and budget. Reining in pro bono clients can consume half the agency’s time and personnel, and dent anyone’s altruistic fervor. (Such stories we could tell you…!)

But pro bono work is a great way to give back to the community and build goodwill. Finding smart ways to manage the process therefore becomes essential.

Spelling out the parameters of the process, and maintaining control of the outcome, is a matter of careful planning, straight talk and educating the pro bono client about how the process works. When everyone understands what needs to happen to make a project a beneficial arrangement for all parties, there is less friction, less wasted time and personnel hours, and a better final product.

A Second Wind member agency kindly shared a sample pro bono project agreement they use to spell out the terms of their working relationships and educate pro bono clients about agency processes.

Incorporate some pro bono work in your yearly business plan and enjoy the benefits. Your creative staff will enjoy a project they can really have fun with. You will gain business contacts through working with community leaders. And, your participation can be used to generate some positive publicity for the agency. It’s all “for the good.”

Learn more about pro bono benefits and practices.