Robert Acton

Robert Acton

“I have a confession to make…”

OK, you got my attention.  And attention, as if all you smart people don’t already know, is the most important thing in the world in marketing.

Pro Bono, for me?

I actually don’t remember what the confession was, and by this time, the speaker, Robert Acton, the Executive Director, NY of the Taproot Foundation, was well into his talk with a roomful of eyeballs focused on the topic of the day – pro bono management training.

Yes, I got up really early, hopped on the 6:35 ferry from Rockaway, downed two coffees at The Blue Spoon before catching an uptown train to Irving Place to spend the next few hours to:

                                                                                                                                                                    Learn the principles of great pro bono

  1. Maximize the value of my investment in pro bono
  2. Scope a pro bono project that meets my needs
  3. Discover how to find and secure pro bono resources
  4. Prepare for managing my pro bono engagement
  5. Plan my next steps for implementing a pro bono engagement

Are Pro Bono projects for me?

Pro bono is a powerful resource.

This is something the good folk at ConEd Power of Giving Forum realized when the got together with the Taproot Foundation to host  Need Marketing? Go Pro Bono, a session to strengthen their nonprofit partners – I love that they call us partners, not grantees which sound like a lesser form of plant life, in my opinion –  by giving us the tools and training we need to get successful pro bono engagements.

Powered by Pro Bono, the Service Grant Program of the Taproot Foundation, has a similar goal: “to help nonprofit organizations scope, secure, manage, and scale pro bono resources independently and sustainably, so that they can scale the impact on the communities they serve.”

Stacey Winter

Stacey Winter

There were two Taproot consultants at Table 3.  Virginia, of  Blake West, Blake West & Co. LLCtold me that she spent thirty years in the corporate marketing world and felt it was time to give back.  Monica Juniel Byers of Ensequence Inc.,  in a panel later on in the session moderated by Stacey Winter, Program Director, NY of the Taproot Foundation, mentioned other reasons people do pro bono work that included the following:

  • People want to help
  • A new challenging project is very appealing
  • People have a personal interest and passion for your work
  • Interest in nonprofit world

What does a successful Pro Bono project need from me?

  • Give beginning and end date – people like closure and to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Also, people have a lot of other stuff going on in their lives.
  • Clearly articulate the project – clarity is a great way to manage expectations and gives the consultant a way to understand how much time will actually be needed for the project.
  • How to keep momentum going?  Forward motion, show progress, stay connected.
  • Show appreciation, say thank you a lot
  • Stay on deadline – and of course, stay in touch.
  • Send consultants invitations to stuff you do – this is a great way for them to see you in a different light and to become excited about the work you do.  A gala, performance or special event is a perfect way to build dimension to your relationship.
  • Training is part of the project – consultants want to make sure the project is sustainable.

All of us in the room share common challenges – lack of time, staff and resources.  Clearly, getting pro bono assistance has great appeal for nonprofits.  In an interesting ice breaker, we discovered other  commonalities at our own tables.  Some of the more unexpected ones were:

  1. We’ve all seen the wizard of oz
  2. Love to drink and never been arrested.
  3. All been to circus.  We all have been to the Bronx.
  4. We love garlic and hope you will still talk to us.

The S & M of Pro Bono

Once you strip away all the hype, the drama, the melodrama, take off the bells, whistles, whips and chains and chances are you will have a simple, straight forward act whether it is sex, drugs, rock & roll or  your pro bono project.   You will probably find yourself  thinking, “Is this what the big fuss is all about?”

What I really like are the bullets and the clear layout of a working plan that we were encouraged to think about.  These were the big bullets in the workbook and for me, the essence of it all:


 - Can you clearly define the work that needs to be done?


 - Who is out there and where do you find them?


 - Act like a paying client

Some final words of advice for managing Pro Bono

I am always surprised at how basic and common sense like professional advice can be.   Short of rocket science, you can accomplish a great deal with common sense and courtesy.  Here are some parting words of wisdom from the Taproot consultant panel:

  • Know what you know
  • Ask questions
  • Avoid summer
  • Keep your organization aligned and on board with consultant
  • Be clear about what you want accomplished at the end of the project
  • Treat project as professional

What are your next steps?

 There is a lot to think about and even more to work on should you decided to work on your own pro bono project.  I suggest you begin with three things:

Go to

Join the Powered by Pro Bono group on LinkedIn

Read Powered by Pro Bono from the Taproot Foundation

Best of luck!