How to Make Even More of a Difference When You Work Pro Bono

Join the Non-Profit's Board and Gain Access to Resources and Expertise

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One of the most inspiring things you can do as a creative person is to craft a pro-bono campaign. It's an opportunity to change the world for the better, discover new talents, build a new team to solve a new challenge and expand your comfort zone.

As money will be tight, chances are you will take on many different roles. On various jobs, I have found myself being the account planner, the creative director and the writer -- as well as the lunch maker, the van driver, the camera rig builder, the talent recruiter, the motorboat driver and the guy who picks up the trash at the end of the day. You are going to get your hands dirty.

While you're at it, you might take on one more job that can make an even bigger difference. Become a member of the board for the cause you are inspired to serve. You'll have to attend one meeting a month and give more of your time, but speaking from experience, I know you will get more out of it than you put in.

The board you will join probably has certain types of people already on it. There is usually a person who is an organizational genius, a person with a golden Rolodex who has contacts everywhere, and a person who understands the cause inside and out. There may even be someone who has achieved spectacular success in business. But chances are there is no creative person.

There should be. You bring something unique to the cause that most nonprofits sorely need: the ability to crystallize a message and make it memorable, moving and effective.

Most importantly, you will have a seat at the table -- the boardroom table. That way, if people on the board have concerns about the strategy, the creative, the photography, the music or any element that goes into the campaign, you will be there to help solve the problem. You will be collaborating with some very successful people who have accomplished great things. Best of all, you will be their equal, rather than their supplier whose voice is filtered through a representative.

The journey from concept to finished work is made difficult by the lack of resources. But when you're on the board, the other members will help you. They have rich contacts that you can tap into.

For example, I was working on a campaign for a nonprofit, and the photo usage costs were so high that the campaign could not be produced. A member of the board happened to know the CEO of the stock house. He made a phone call and the estimate for photo usage was reduced by more than 80%. Without my being on the board, without that contact, without that phone call, the campaign never would have gotten out the door.

This kind of networking isn't new to you. As a creative person, you are collaborating with more people than ever. At the day job, you work with writers, art directors, user experience people, account people, planners, producers, even other agencies on projects for large clients with numerous relationships.

From a practical point of view, most nonprofit boards are always looking for new members, as volunteers can be expected to serve only for a limited time. According to, there are currently more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the United States. One of them you care deeply about will be happy to give you a try; all you have to do is ask.

Rest assured, you will not be the first. Dan Wieden sits on the board of directors of Caldera, a nonprofit arts education organization and camp for at-risk youth. Jeff Goodby is on the board of directors for the National Audobon Society. Bob Greenberg is on the board of the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

It's time for more creative people to start collaborating with board members at the big table. It's good for the cause. It's good for the board. It's good for the creative people. And most importantly, it's just good for the work.

Joe Berkeley is a group creative director at Hill Holliday.
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