Should You Work for Free? For the Right Cause, Sure

Don't Turn Away From Pro Bono Work

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Marc Brownstein
Marc Brownstein
Ad agencies are good at making a difference for all kinds of organizations -- especially the ones that cannot afford our services. Please do not misinterpret my comment; it is not meant to be judgmental or cynical. In my experience, when an agency wraps its head and heart around a cause -- be it a health-related charity, community-based one, or some other worthy cause, it usually rises to the occasion.

January is the perfect time of year to reflect upon that. We all just came through the busy holiday season, where agencies created cool holiday cards, donated to their favorite charities -- and even more important -- delivered campaigns, often for no fee, to the causes that they believe in. Talk about making a difference.

I would love to know how much agencies throughout the country and the world donate to the nonprofits. I suspect the dollar figure would be staggering. Something tells me that when it came to small agencies, that figure would be very encouraging for the charities -- but would give the agencies' accountants heartburn!

Why should you give away your ideas for free at a time that you need to bill for fee? Here's why:

  • As the world becomes more complex, there are more organizations springing up each day that are trying to solve the world's problems. Often these organizations need the pro bono services of ad agencies, law firms, accounting firms, etc.

  • Doing pro bono work is good for the soul. It allows an agency to flex its creative muscles in ways paying clients might not/cannot allow, while doing good. An agency in Cleveland, Point to Point (, runs a pay-it-forward like campaign called "Change for 20." Each employee is given $20 with a simple set of rules: change someone's life with it and document the experience on the blog through video, photos and print posts. There are many other agencies around the globe doing equally powerful work.

  • Raises your agency's profile in the business community. You can put your agency logo on materials you created, site you built, events you planned. And work for non-profits typically have the highest winning percentage in the advertising/PR award shows.

  • It's your largest clients' pet cause. You have no choice.
While it's hard to say "no" to a good cause, I do want to send a note of caution: In this economy, there has been an avalanche of requests for pro bono services. I tease that Brownstein Group's "pro bono division" is "going through the roof!" Most organizations are legit; some are not. This chart made me laugh, and should help you vet the good opportunities from those who are merely trying to take advantage of our valuable intellectual property.

Now go out there and make a dent in the world. No one can do it better than you.

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