Everyone likes to give back. Whether it’s donating money or time, most of us wish we could do more for the causes that matter to us. Though Mad Fish Digital is a business, as a B Corp we’re focused on creating a resilient economy that supports our community. While we contribute financially, that just no longer seemed like enough. 

As we provide marketing services to our clients, it was natural that we build a pro bono program that provides those services to organizations. We’re able to provide access to a team of professional marketers and work on their behalf. That all sounded good on paper but putting together an implementation plan that would effectively serve our community while working into our existing business model posed some challenges. We want to share what we’ve learned, and empower other marketing agencies to do the same. 

How we started our pro bono program

The first step in kicking off a pro bono program is ensuring you have executive buy-off. Pro bono services require time and resources that take from overall utilization and profitability. If you work for a company that values community outreach and giving back, this should be easy. You will definitely want to work with your operations and finance teams to ensure you have the support you need for the work. Our company is committed to creating elevated experiences for our community, so rolling out our pro bono program was easily approved. 

Determine what services you will provide

The first thing you’ll want to ask yourself is which of your services you’ll be able to provide pro bono. For some, perhaps, web development isn’t possible, but photos and video work can be done. The services you provide should be limited to those you can do entirely in-house if possible to streamline the system and avoid external slowdowns or complications. 

In our case, we provide branding, design, content marketing, and SEO services to our pro bono partners. We also work on the paid media side occasionally through Google’s grant program. 

When we started doing pro bono marketing, it was generally on a one-off basis for campaign-based engagements. As we’ve grown, we’ve started to focus on more long-term projects that allow us to provide deeper ongoing value, similar to our existing client partnerships. 

Establishing criteria

Picking pro bono projects is overwhelming. There are so many folks who need help, but time is limited. At Mad Fish Digital, we donate no less than 2.5% of our yearly working hours to pro bono work. As we’ve grown, we have established some criteria to help us select organizations. This includes: 

  • Nonprofit status
  • Location and communities served
  • Team and organizational alignment

Ensuring your entire team is on the same page with the types of pro bono clients you are happy to work on will eliminate confusion down the line and help empower folks to suggest nonprofits that matter to them for consideration. 

pro bono hours visual data

Set boundaries

With pro bono projects, team members may be more likely to go over hours and go the extra mile. Setting appropriate boundaries and enforcing them will help you stay on track and accomplish the goals you set out to. While we always want to be adaptable, things can get out of hand quickly, and reigning in both production teams and clients is crucial for success. We recommend creating a scope of work or equivalent contract document so that your team and the organization you are working with are in agreement on what services will be provided. Setting expectations and goals make the relationship run much smoother. Don’t be afraid to say no when something is outside of the original scope, and explain how you may be able to come back to that at a later time.

Don’t overload yourself

When you’re getting started, it can be tempting to take on too much. You’re passionate about what you’re doing but stick to one project at first. Don’t forget to do project reflections so you can implement your learnings for your next pro bono client. If you are used to working with larger, corporate clients, the adjustment to working with nonprofits may be more drastic than you think. Being patient with the process and knowing you’ll eventually find your rhythm is key. 

Follow your existing processes

Ultimately, treating your pro bono clients the same as your paying clients is an essential part of keeping things organized and providing a great experience to your pro bono client. Try not to break your processes as this can inevitably lead to friction or confusion. Instead, do what you do best and focus on providing value at every turn. 

Determine the time commitment

We use our standard onboarding procedure for pro bono clients. We hold client experience kickoff meetings to set goals and gather information. The client strategist on the pro bono account then creates a pricing sheet that determines how many hours we will be spending on the project, and for how long. These are then put into our utilization projections and we can start to execute.

Onboarding and strategy development 

When we onboard pro bono clients, we’re careful to avoid digital marketing jargon and want to get to the heart of their needs. Ultimately, if it’s donations they need, we’ll work on that. For others, it may be e-commerce sales, community engagement, or brand awareness. 

No matter their goals, we create a custom digital marketing plan that seeks to answer these goals. We present it to the client contacts and iterate using their feedback to develop an ongoing monthly plan that is sustainable for both the pro bono client and Mad Fish Digital. 

Ongoing execution for pro bono programs

For ongoing services, we try to operate close to our existing model. We measure performance on a weekly and monthly basis and have used our program to grow our existing service offerings to sharpen our skills. For instance, one of our team members had worked in branding but it wasn’t a core service. As such, we did a project for a local organization to flex our skills and ensure our process was in a good place for the next time we took it on. The organization got a fully realized brand strategy for a local event, and we were able to hone our skills. Having passionate team members is crucial for this kind of work. 

Stay connected

If you’re doing a campaign-based engagement, stay connected with the organization after your partnership comes to a close. Your ongoing support may lead to more projects together. You can also connect them with other resources in the community, and get to see the impact of all your hard work. 

How to get pro bono clients

Connecting with local organizations is a great way to identify needs. Networking can open up opportunities and help you find the right partners. We feel lucky to have found amazing pro bono partners through LinkedIn, B Local, and Visible Alliance. Don’t be afraid to leverage your staff to come up with some dream pro bono clients as well! 

What are your thoughts on pro bono programs at digital marketing agencies? Does your agency already do this? Feel free to reach out to us with your thoughts. We’d love to hear what you have to say.