I was talking to a friend the other day who was getting eaten alive by a pro bono project for a community organization he really cares about. They were driving him nuts with changing requirements, additional revs and entirely new deliverables, all with almost instantaneous deadlines. He was pulling his hair out. In his desire to "give back to the community", he's stealing from himself. And he's not alone. A lot of us do it.

Avoid these pro bono project mistakes

Instead of treating pro bono projects like client accounts, many of us:

  • Don't agree on a clear list of deliverables and deadlines
  • Don't set expectations for client's activities and responsibilities
  • Don't assess fair market value for the services, or inform clients of it
  • Don't ask for compensation in the form of recognition or promotional consideration
  • Don't outline workflow and time frames
  • Don't write all this up and share with the project owner

And because we don't do all these things, we very likely end up like my buddy with an out-of-control project that eats up more time than we thought and might even make us regret the decision to help out in the first place. That's no good.

How to approach pro bono projects

Instead of feeling sheepish about making your pro bono work as transactional as your paid projects, step proudly into that frame of mind. After all, you treat the actual work just as professionally as you would for a paying client, right? So why aren't you treating the business side that way?

Next time you're asked to do a pro bono project, create the same kind of proposal or work agreement you would for you regular clients. I think you'll find that the project will go more smoothly and you'll feel even better about doing good.