In Part 1 last week, Laurel talked about how to choose which projects to do “pro bono” and how to do them in a professional manner. In part 2, she talks about how to train a non-profit to be a good client, and answers some questions from last week’s commenters, such as, “How exactly do you invoice?” and “What kind of guidelines should be put in place?”
As with paying work, sometimes the best of intentions go awry. That is often because even though you have thoroughly documented the value of your services, some people still assume that once the price tag is canceled out, so is the value. Here are two instances when all the preparation and well-laid plans will not keep a pro bono situation from becoming problematic.
When It Looks like the Karma is Going Sideways
Sometimes, in spite of all your explanations about the limitations of your donation, you’ll be faced with the expectation that you will keep plugging away at the project until “everyone is happy with it.” When that occurs, you can do one of two things. You can call a come-to-Jesus meeting and refer the client to your original agreement, reminding them that an offer of donated services is not the same thing as indentured slavery.
Your proposal notwithstanding, because they are so devoted to their cause, they may have no idea that they are making unreasonable demands (if they do, keep reading.) This is another opportunity to demonstrate your professionalism and train your non-profit how to be a good client. Whether this is possible depends on the individual circumstances.
The alternative is to look at the repercussions of bailing vs. sucking it up and finishing the project. It could be that the PR fallout from not finishing would be worse than not having done the project at all. Either way, this situation requires a judgment call on your part. Since all situations are different, you will have to decide what it is worth to you, whether you draw a hard line or see it through to the end.
When It Looks like the Karma is Going South
Not all non-profits are ethically squeaky clean. Recognize when your benefactees may be sliding towards exploiting you. This can happen for a number of reasons: when a non-profit is starting up because someone is trying to create a job at no cost to himself; when the board has no respect for anyone’s time or abilities but their own; or the executive director, ditto.
It’s up to you to see when this is happening and deal with it in a way that is not damaging to your business. No cause is worth feeling used and resentful. But even if the group you volunteered for turns out to be less than ideal, you did a good job, you made new connections, and now you can return refreshed to your regular clients.
Weasels Are the Exception, Not the Norm
The vast majority of people and groups are wonderful. Besides the chance to make meaningful and satisfying connections, volunteering offers opportunities to expand your knowledge and skills in ways that are not always available to a small business. In volunteering, the very least you will gain is getting to know some great people, and the knowledge that you have used your talents to make the world better.