Leveraging Pro Bono Creative Services
By Chris McCue

Chris McCue
Chris McCue
You’ve planned and budgeted for the new year, and at the top of your to-do list is that first-ever creative project. It could be developing a new logo, redesigning your website, or creating a new brochure. You’ve even managed to budget money for printing or technical services, but now you need to find someone to provide creative expertise #147; for free.

Despite the pressure you’re probably feeling to launch an exhaustive search for a pro bono creative partner, you’ll save time in the long run by defining your expectations first. Here are some questions to guide your thinking:
  1. Do you have a staff member to manage the project? At most nonprofits, employees wear multiple hats, and adding oversight of another project will require dedicated time, and if possible, some expertise in marketing or communications.
  2. What kind of help are you looking for? You may have someone in-house who can whip together compelling brochure copy and manage the project, so graphic design services are all you need. Or, you may not have this kind of expertise internally, so you’ll need an individual or firm willing to provide a full scope of services. Take time to map out your needs in advance.
  3. What’s your timeframe? Finding someone to adopt your agency as a pro bono client can take many months. And once you find someone, he or she will be squeezing in your project around demands from paying clients. For these reasons, be sure to build in extra time on all aspects of the project schedule.
  4. How do you view the pro bono relationship?Try to view it no differently than a fee-based arrangement, though this isn’t always easy for nonprofit leaders #147; especially if you’re desperate for help. You shouldn’t feel beholden to a creative services firm, or avoid providing honest feedback about the work being done. At the same time, you should give your partner the leeway to be creative, especially since creative professionals seek out a nonprofit project because it allows them to break away from their usual work and try something different.

Conducting the Search

Once you’ve created a detailed project description that outlines scope, staffing and management, you can begin searching for the ideal pro bono partner by:
  • Asking current supporters of your organization for leads.
  • Leveraging your usual online channels for volunteer recruitment (e.g., Craig’s List, Idealist, VolunteerMatch, etc.)
  • Spreading the word via your professional network or through specialized associations (e.g., Public Relations Society of America, Ad Club, Boston Women Communicators, New England Publicity Club, etc.)
  • Applying for a creative services grant (e.g., The Taproot Foundation and Citizens Bank each provide grants to non-profit organizations to support their marketing efforts.)

Evaluating Potential Creative Partners

While it’s tempting to launch a pro bono partnership sight unseen, you can avoid problems down the road by taking the time to evaluate a potential partner’s fit with your organization. Follow these three steps as part of the evaluation process:
  • Look for partners who care about your mission. Ideally, you want someone whose motivations for doing the work are based on how the project will advance your cause and make an impact. Be careful about bringing someone on who has a passing interest, was strong-armed into helping you out, or is purely focused on personal benefits. Your partner should want to learn as much as possible about your organization before starting.
  • Follow a traditional search process. This means checking out portfolios, conducting interviews and asking for references. Past work combined with positive feedback from former or existing clients are good indicators of future success. With a creative project, your staff liaison should feel comfortable with any prospective partner.
  • Have an official contract. It’s valuable to outline on paper the terms of the relationship, what the final product(s) will be, and how each party will benefit from the partnership. For the pro bono partner, that might include a presentation to your board, or credit on the finished product.

Celebrating the End

Once your project is complete, take time to capture information on the market value of the pro bono services provided, and to formally thank your pro bono partner. By following the steps here, you’ll successfully navigate any pro bono creative project.




Chris McCue, APR, director of marketing and mentor recruitment at Mass Mentoring Partnership, has worked in corporate communications and community relations for more than 15 years before joining the nonprofit sector three years ago. Call her at 617-695-2438 or email cmccue@massmentors.org.