Connecting the Pro to the Pro Bono

by | Oct 20, 2015 | Blog, collaborations, People

CO+HOOTS founder Jenny Poon worked pro bono on a mobile grocery store. Graphic designer Vince Baarson did a pro bono website redesign. And the CO+HOOTS Foundation turn all this pro bono solidarity into a week-long event that will connect nonprofits will the skilled workers they desperately need to get to the next level.

Pro Bono Week 2015 is coming up, people. To make sense of the urge to contribute, I spoke to all three of these fine people about why and how they do it, and why you should, too.

It’s Not What You Think

They started by beating down the misconceptions. For example, “Pro bono doesn’t necessarily mean free,” Jenny said. “It can mean discounted services.”

It also isn’t restricted to legal services, which is the most common context in which people hear the term “pro bono.” Finally, it’s not about volunteerism, a term that often translates to throwing on your weed-pulling clothes and doing some hard labor for a few hours.

Instead, pro bono is about putting your professional skills to work for an organization that needs to put its fund-raised money toward other things.

“I do a lot of work for nonprofits, either helping them build a marketing or strategy plan or building a website or rebranding,” Jenny says.

This has included, for example, working with Discovery Triangle, a Phoenix nonprofit, on its project called Fresh Express.

“They basically got a city bus and converted it into a grocery store,” Jenny says. “And they go to low-income areas — there’s this concept of a ‘food desert’ in Arizona — and they sell the food at cost to families that can’t access grocery stores.”

Vince Baarson got into pro bono after donating his skills to Creatathon 2015 and PHX Pro Bono Week 2014. He has since given his talents to the dogs. Caring for Canines came to him to say they loved his design style and to ask about a site redesign. Vince leapt into action.

”By the end of the year,” he says, “they will have a brand-spanking new, awesome, usable website.”

He didn’t stop there.

“I think I’ve probably done upwards of $5,000-$6,000 of pro bono work this year,” he says.

The Logistics

While all of this surely sounds like it could go terribly wrong, both Jenny and Vince agree: pro bono work needs to be handled the same as client work.

“Exactly like any other project,” Vince says.

Put together an estimate. Set a timeline. Require the “client” to do their part of the work as well. Run it like a standard project.

Vince does this by asking a lot of questions — about the project, the organization, why they do what they do, and more. By tapping into the organization’s essence, he can connect to it and design more effectively for it. It’s a great way to start any project, and it’s especially true for pro bono work. Otherwise, there are a number of risks, including scope creep and lost interest; after all, the skilled workers are giving their services away for free.

The Heart of it All

To stave off that second issue, it’s vital to choose groups you care about. It’s another thing Jenny and Vince both agree on.

“This is just as valuable a project as a paid project,” Jenny says. “If your values align, it’s not an exchange of money, but an exchange of support and passion, and it makes you feel like you’re giving to something that’s worth it. I could easily donate money, but I’d rather not, because giving in this way has a bigger impact than just giving money.”

By being invested in the organization, in other words, you see value not in what it can pay you, but in its future success, a goal that keeps you motivated.

Making a Big Thing of It

To harness all this generosity, the CO+HOOTS Foundation is putting together its second Pro Bono Week.

Among those classes is one called Nonprofit 101, aimed at teaching nonprofits how to work with skilled professionals. Often, they haven’t done so in the past, and need some help learning how to direct and work with people who come from the corporate or freelance world. Also featured is “Gifts and Opportunities,” where, Kay says, “half of the room will be filled with skilled talent and then half of the room will be filled with nonprofits.”

Matchmaking at its finest.

The effort creates mutually beneficial connections and a motivation to consider the possibility of donating one’s time for a good cause, something Jenny very much stands behind.

“By giving my services,” she says, “I will see your success, and that’s something that makes me feel like I’m winning as well.”


Click to Get involved in Pro Bono Week 2015.