What’s in it for me?
Let’s be honest: we ask ourselves this question pretty often, especially in this industry. It’s tough to accept work with a small retainer and even harder with no payment at all. Even for a good cause, we simply don’t have the time, resources, manpower or energy to put into something with a low ROI. So when a nonprofit asks for some pro bono (or nominal-fee) PR work, our first instinct is to say no.
At the end of the day, working without pay isn’t sensible, right? Not quite.
As a senior account associate at Bospar, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a few nonprofits and advocacy organizations. It’s time-intensive and can be emotionally draining. But it’s also essential to personal and professional growth, for individuals and as a business.
Not every nonprofit is straightforward and easy to get behind. Some of them—specifically religious and political organizations—can be controversial. This requires deep research, clearly structured arguments, and healthy internal debates. This sharpens research skills and challenges your team to do some good and cohesive strategic thinking.
Pitching sensitive topics to the media
Sometimes nonprofit clients’ work involves human and civil rights issues, political positions and questions of religious freedom, so pitching these topics to the media can be a delicate business. Nonprofit clients require your team to pay attention and stay on-point. More so than with many other clients, pitching these stories requires tact and nuance.
Introduction to the “do-gooder network”
Working with nonprofit clients introduces your team to an entirely new network of people—journalists you’ve never pitched, attendees at conferences you’d never heard of, and, sometimes, politicians to help you convey your message to the public.
Limited funds and unique goals force the team to think creatively, utilizing grassroots strategies, powerful social media campaigns, and influential spokespeople.
Just because you aren’t being paid much by the nonprofit who has engaged you doesn’t mean there won’t be positive business-related outcomes. It’s not uncommon for larger companies to partner with smaller organizations and for members of the board to be connected to major companies. Through my nonprofit clients, I’ve connected with some very powerful women in Silicon Valley, influential politicians and executives at Fortune 500 companies.
Effective pro bono work requires time, energy and strategic thinking, yes, but the end result can be more paying clients, new contacts and a team with an expanded, sharpened skillset.
So the next time someone approaches you for help with their nonprofit and you find yourself asking, “What’s in it for me?” remember that the answer just might be: a lot.