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It’s no secret that pro bono work helps raise a business’s profile among current and potential clients, as well as nonprofits. And while I believe this, there is much more to it. Doing pro bono work isn’t just good for your company—it’s good for the people who work at your company.
A genuine commitment to pro bono work tells your employees what kind of company you are and helps to define your company’s relationship to the community. For employees, being involved in these projects can be a chance for professional development and a source of personal satisfaction and pride.
That means not cutting back when business or billings take a hit—or when business is so good, you’re crazy busy. Make no mistake: Pro bono work is extra work. At Hill Holliday, it’s work that employees do in addition to billable projects, gladly and with as much enthusiasm as if they were getting paid.
For a creative person, pro bono work is often an opportunity to showcase and hone his or her talents. The first television spot I ever wrote, back in 1985, was for the AIDS Action Committee, and it won a One Show Gold Pencil award. That project opened up a world of opportunity for me to produce more TV.
In our business—advertising—we have to be able to understand what makes all kinds of people tick. Advertising isn’t unique in this regard. Nor is it unique in the fact that ambitious people can lose their ability to see beyond their immediate concerns and their immediate world. When you’re working on behalf of charitable organizations that help people who are facing enormous challenges every day, your worldview is expanded in all directions. You see things you wouldn’t have otherwise seen—and you can’t be unaffected by it, professionally or personally.
Those of us in the service business have the unique opportunity to give back in a targeted way. It doesn’t make our type of contribution more valuable to those we help, but it does give our people a more personal connection, especially when they work on causes that are important to them individually. Producing a piece on behalf of Massachusetts’s police dogs sprang from an employee’s special interest in the cause.
Knowing what matters to employees, where their interests and passions lie, helps in deciding which projects to undertake, because there are always more requests than you can possibly honor.
Pro bono work isn’t a way to build corporate culture. It’s an expression of it. Show your people who you—and they—really are.