Guardian Q and A Getting the most out of pro bono work Best Bits

Posted on Jul 23, 2011

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Best bits - getting the most out of pro bono work

We round up our experts' advice on how you can use pro bono work to its full potential

This article was written by Kate Hodge and published in Guardian Professional, Friday 8 July 2011 13.04 BST
Best bits - getting the most out of pro bono work Photograph: Ryanstock/Taxi/Getty

Paul Skinner - founder, Pimp My Cause

Use pro bono to get the expertise you need: Charities should consider pro bono as part of a broader trend to leverage external resources to support their mission – whatever the size of the organisation, most of the world's talent and resources lie outside its boundaries. Pro bono is a useful way of getting the help you need from specialists.

Pro bono work can support CSR: Larger corporations understand the increasing need for sustainable development and, apparently, it is often the marketing department that block sustainable innovation. However, by collaborating on social and environmental projects on a pro bono basis for a few hours a week or a few days a year, corporate marketing teams can often learn more about social and environmental value than if they were to attend expensive training courses. This benefits the business as much as the charities they support.

Alison Ingram and Martin Curtis - heads of projects, LawWorks

Pro bono is becoming more professionalised: Pro bono has become far more coordinated over the past 10 years. Some of the larger city firms have members of staff employed solely to organise pro bono and recognise the charitable work undertaken by their lawyers through their bonus structure and additional annual leave policies etc.

Show appreciation: It is very important for not-for-profits to work at their relationships with corporate partners. Some smaller charities find it difficult to offer a great deal to the companies giving them pro bono advice, but in many instances, showing appreciation for the work they have done goes a long way. Offering help with the promotion of pro bono work internally at the company is often gratefully received. Many law firms get representatives from charities they have helped to speak at internal events to encourage more employees to get involved.

Measure impact: We ask all applicants to report back on the effect of the pro bono work provided. This can range from an individual being able to remain in their home when a landlord is trying to evict them, to a charity being able to gain funding they otherwise would not have been able to access. We offer a summary of the impact reported to the law firms along with quotes from the people and organisations they helped. Lawyers also provide an End of Matter Report outlining what work was undertaken, how long this took and what it would have cost had the person been paying. This information can be used by the law firms for publicity and fed into their annual report or CSR review.

Simon Cleobury - associate, Baker & McKenzie

Treat pro bono clients as you would any other: Ensure that the recipients of pro bono advice receive the same standard of work as fee-paying clients by treating the work in exactly the same way. At Baker & McKenzie all pro bono hours are treated as billable hours and are recognised in the lawyer's annual evaluation. Professionals are often very busy, so you need to manage a charity's expectations on delivery time in the same way as a paying client. Enter into engagement letters with pro bono clients to formalise the relationship.

Partner up across corporations to deliver pro bono advice: Try teaming up with fee paying clients to carry out a pro bono project. For example at B&M we worked with Accenture to provide advice to an international charity on all aspects of their data protection compliance programme. We also coordinated a global pro bono project for the Public Interest Law Institute (now PILNet) with Google.

Use pro bono to build your portfolio: Pro bono work is a very good way of acquiring new skills. For example, pro bono matters provide lawyers, especially younger lawyers, with a great opportunity to build relationships with clients that they might not be able to do if the client had to pay fees. Pro bono work also often takes lawyers out of their areas of expertise, giving the lawyer essential experience outside their professional comfort zone.

Pro bono is on the up: We have seen an increase in the amount of pro bono work over last year or so. This could be for a number of reasons. There is an increasing awareness amongst charities and NGOs that there is help out there and more importance being given to Corporate Social Responsibility. Law firms are now expected to have a strong pro bono programme and their employees are much keener to get involved with pro bono.

David Hardie - head of venture philanthropy, Inspiring Scotland

Get the right support at the right time: At Inspiring Scotland we match a charity's needs with the skills of an individual or company. Performance advisors help every charity we support to ensure they make the most of their pro bono help.

The cuts have been beneficial:
Economic austerity has actually had a positive effect - it has created opportunities for professionals and businessmen to give more time to the third sector. While the economic climate has had a negative impact on their ability to give cash, professionals have become time rich.

Harriet Penning - communications manager, Meningitis Trust

Establish some kind of agreement upfront: Both parties need to know where they stand. Have a formal discussion, where you can ask questions about what to expect and how the partnership will work. Type up the minutes from the meeting and distribute them - this way both partner's positions are clarified and the minutes can act as a reference tool if any issues arise. It's a two-way street and most charities recognise that they cannot expect to get all of the benefits without giving anything back.

Laura Chambers - senior consultant, Just:: Health PR

Review your pro bono arrangement regularly and really commit to it: If the relationship is to be truly effective, it's crucial that both parties are clear on what they want from the partnership and review how things are going on a regular basis. Generally, pro bono charity partners do not expect any more than fee-paying clients do - in fact sometimes you will need to raise their expectations.

Zoe Amar - head of marketing and business development, Lasa

Choose your bro bono partner carefully: The bedrock of a good pro bono relationship, from a charity's perspective, is doing your research. Before you meet with a corporate, always go through their annual report, website and any other resources, and have a clear understanding of their CSR objectives.

Isabel Evans - senior marketing manager, Media Trust

Clarity is essential: Some smaller charities can feel swamped by the amount of brilliant campaigns by others in the sector. But when a small charity has thought very clearly and carefully about their objectives, key messages, target audiences and realistic resources available, their successes speak volumes. Charities can often punch above their weight when they are clear internally and externally, about who they are, what they want to achieve, and how they are going to achieve it. Even if a charity is small and relatively sparsely resourced, having a clarity of purpose is very attractive to new partners and donors.

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