Me for Free?

(The subheading of this post should be “the merits of doing pro bono work.”)

From Stu’s Views

In April, I decided to join Catchafire, a remarkable organization that matches professionals with organizations (non-profits and social enterprises) that need help with a short-term business-related project. The premise of Catchafire’s mission is that we all have competencies that can add real value to an organization. And if we’re willing to lend a hand and engage in traditional charity or volunteer work, why not apply the same spirit to “donating” your time and expertise to help organizations with their social missions?

Now, you may be skeptical about pro bono work. I know I was. My #1 thought was what it meant to be giving away my services for free — why would I do that? A lot of the time, new entrepreneurs and freelancers are guilty of undervaluing their services, and didn’t pro bono just reiterate how true that is? Plus, it’s not like I’m Scrooge McDuck in his vault, swimming in mountains of gold.

But then I looked at it differently.

Instead of fixating so much on what I would be doing for others and how I would be giving away services for free, I asked myself what I could get out of potentially doing a pro bono project — not a revolutionary thought, but this is an instance when being a little self-centered helps in gaining perspective.

What I realized then is that Catchafire — and other such organizations like Taproot Foundation — have the right idea. By helping others, you would be helping yourself.

If that sounds a little too kumbaya a la Jerry Maguire, allow me to explain:

First, let’s focus on what you’ll be doing for others. You’ll be using what you know to help them accomplish a specific business goal. That could be writing their first annual report or developing a communications strategy (for example). You are the consulting lead on an in-depth project that will help your “client” organization take its next steps.

Now, what about you? Maybe you want to hone your skills in a specific area, learn something new, strengthen your professional confidence and/or try your hand at working for yourself. Or maybe you just want to do good and connect with new networks. No matter where you are in your career, I think one (or more than one) of these reasons may resonate with you. For me, they all do.

I finished my first Catchafire project earlier this month, and it felt good. Not just because I “donated” my time, but because I felt I was doing something productive, something that could help meet a goal, both mine and my client’s.

Pro bono work is serious business, and it may not be for you right now. It’s easy to think that because you are lending out your services, it’s not as demanding as a paid position. Not at all true. The only way the pro bono equation will work is if you tackle a project with the same strategy, discipline and pride that you would any of your other paid work.

(Remember: you don’t want a disgruntled client — paid or unpaid.)

And if you choose your project wisely and stay 100% committed, I promise you an extremely rewarding experience.

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