March is one of our favorite months at C.Fox Communications. This is the time we collect applications for the it Award, an annual grant that this year is worth up to $20,000 in pro bono PR services to a deserving nonprofit.
As an added bonus, giving back in this way has directly impacted our agency’s financial growth in the last four years. Indeed, the strategic decision to give away services has helped our agency win a significant amount of new business—and not just any business, but exactly the type of business that we want to take on as we grow.
Agency owners and communications directors at private companies often ask me if they can benefit from similar efforts, without taking away from the need to focus on what matters most for the business: paying customers and clients.
The short answer is "yes," but there are five things you should know first:
- One focused pro bono effort is better than several disjointed efforts: In the first few years of running my own agency I took on a handful of small pro bono projects to support community initiatives that mattered to me. I also took on pro bono work to raise the visibility of my new agency. And yet, I discovered that I wasn’t getting much personal satisfaction from giving five hours here, or 10 hours there—nor was I building quality relationships that could help secure larger scale contracts. So, in 2010, I decided to pool all of the agency’s pro bono efforts into one large, application-based grant, giving one organization the greatest opportunity to benefit from working with an agency, and giving my team a more meaningful opportunity to immerse themselves in a project that mattered.
- Pro bono work can be one of your best recruiting tools: What Millennial Workers Want, a survey by Robert Half International, found that one of the primary deciding factors for millennials when accepting a job—and then really investing in that job for the long term—is whether or not the company displays a commitment to its community. Our commitment to giving back gives our employees opportunities to feel invested in their work, and become even better employees in the process. (Among our other giving initiatives, C.Fox employees are granted a one-week paid sabbatical after a year of full-time employment, affording them the time and flexibility to serve in a way that is meaningful to them.)
- Choose pro bono clients just as you would choose paying clients: Think about the kind of organization you want to serve, and make sure that organization has the resources to implement what you might recommend—and the staff to keep the effort going after your pro bono arrangement ends. For the it Award, we use a multi-step judging process that ensures we really get to know a pro bono client and that the chemistry between our teams is just right before we offer them the award.
- Remember that giving back isn’t a competition: I’ve heard so many small business owners and independent practitioners say, “How can our little company ever make a significant difference, compared to the major corporate social responsibility efforts of Fortune 500 companies?” The truth is that giving at any level is impactful, and the benefit it can have on your company’s culture is unparalleled.
- Use the resources available to you: If you’re considering initiating a company-wide pro bono program, there are a number of online tools available to help you develop your own strategy. I recommend starting with A Billion Plus Change, which is a national campaign to mobilize billions of dollars of pro bono and skills-based service by the end of this year.
Corporate giving has become highly sophisticated in recent years, and the benefits for small and independent agencies to differentiate themselves through skills-based pro bono are more real than ever before. I’ve seen it firsthand.
What do you think? Is this the year for your pro bono campaign?