21 Feb How to say no to pro-bono work without losing face.
As a branding agency owner, I have been asked by dozens of friends either working for or with not-for-profit organizations to help with their marketing. At first, frankly, I was flattered that someone would want my work to grace their organization’s letterhead or website or business card or event poster or invitation or…..I’m sure you get the picture.
After a while though, there was real resentment growing in me anytime I saw their number show up on my caller ID. The cynic in me just knew they were calling for another freebie.
A colleague of mine, Rockwell Morris, enlightened me about a term called “donor creep.” It is rise in requests from a charity seeking free or steeply discounted work. Before long I even started receiving requests from other charities who had seen or heard what a great job I did for so and so and wanted me to help with their free project!
Don’t get me wrong. I really believed in what these organizations were doing. They each, respectively, provided a much needed service in our community and went a long way to positively changing lives.
I could have declined the requests but I didn’t want to appear as a scrooge and I suppose I envisioned my free work for them would eventually lead to paid jobs. I simply had not learned how to say no. A few years ago, however, I instituted a policy for my firm that proved to not only preserve respect and dignity for the charity and my firm but it also relieved some pressure and allowed my pro-bono work to have more impact.
Here are the steps I took:
- To simplify matters for you and your firm, identify one organization you are partnering with to provide services and establish a time frame. For instance, you may want to commit one year to a particular charity. This also has the benefit of allowing you to perform a dive deep into the organization’s marketing, operations and so forth.
- Be very selective about to whom you “hitch your wagon”. In other words, make sure the organization shares your same values or is not embroiled in some controversy. You could find yourself and your company enduring some unwanted advertising.
- Evaluate the organization’s operations and donor base. You want your valued work to build a sustainable charity with vision and means, not saving a sinking ship.
When other organizations call with requests for services, simply tell them you have committed your pro bono time for this year to (insert name of charity). This demonstrates your firm’s commitment to assist charitable organizations and articulates an established policy. You may allow them to submit an application for next year’s coveted slot.
These steps may not totally eliminate all your anxiety when confronted to donate services to a charitable organization. But the respect you earn from saying no in the right way will maintain your dignity and reputation.