An adapted excerpt from the ‘Powered by Pro Bono’ textbook.
Working with skilled volunteers on pro bono projects isn’t your typical volunteer engagement. These projects take lots of advance planning, careful selection of the right skilled volunteer for the job, and a unique type of management throughout the entire process to make sure you’re communicating with your internal team and volunteers appropriately. But the extra effort is well worth it. Through carefully managed pro bono projects, Taproot has seen entire websites built, hugely successful crowdfunding campaigns executed, and innovative new community programs designed.
Use these five tips for great pro bono project management to create your own pro bono success story:
1. Be prepared to invest time
While Taproot pro bono doesn’t have fees attached, it certainly isn’t without cost. In order for your nonprofit to walk away from a pro bono project with a successful outcome, you’ll need to invest time and energy into managing the project—and volunteers—so that it runs smoothly. Your skilled volunteers will need a few things along the way: on-boarding to get them up to speed on your mission and organizational culture, feedback from relevant team members to move the project forward, and regular check-ins to ensure you’re sticking to a set timeline (which is why Taproot recommends only taking on 1-2 pro bono projects at a time).
Pro tip: Track the time you spend managing a pro bono project so that after it wraps, you can calculate your return on investment. This data can help inform which types of pro bono are most worth it for your team to take on in the future.
2. Act like a paying client
This tends to be a sticking point for nonprofits. After all, it can be challenging to express honest feedback to someone who is generously donating their expertise for free. But, from Taproot’s years facilitating pro bono, we can confidently say that the best pro bono experiences—for both the nonprofit AND the volunteer—occur when the project is treated like it’s paid. Schedule regular check-ins, hold volunteers accountable for deadlines, and create a space to both give and receive feedback.
Pro tip: Take your time vetting volunteer applicants. This is where both parties get to feel out whether you’re the right match for one another. Don’t hesitate to check resumes, request samples of past work, or ask for references.
3. Be proactive about internal team communications
Even though you may be the lone project manager for a particular pro bono engagement, keep the rest of your internal team in the loop! Feedback for your volunteer isn’t needed from every staff member within your nonprofit, but keeping relevant people up-to-date on project progress will contribute to a smoother implementation process once the project is wrapped. Without internal project buy-in, even the best pro bono projects fail.
Pro tip: When initially designing your project, work with your internal team to create an implementation plan for whatever end product your skilled volunteer delivers. Setting expectations on how staff members can use this product or deliverable will get people across your nonprofit excited for your project – and maybe inspire them to use pro bono themselves!
4. Create space for volunteers to share
Pro bono is a partnership. It doesn’t mean simply pointing to an issue your organization is facing and expecting a skilled volunteer to solve it. There has to be time and space allowed for your volunteer to share thoughts, receive feedback, and simply feel connected to your organization’s work. Active communication lines between your nonprofit and the volunteer are key for:
- Keeping the project on schedule
- Keeping the project within scope
- And, keeping the volunteer invested in the work
Pro tip: Leave room in your regular check-ins to update your volunteer on non-project specific organizational updates. Maybe your animal shelter just found homes for two of your cutest cats or your literacy program hosted a super popular teen book club – tidbits like this remind your skilled volunteer of the larger mission their work is impacting and will help maintain project buy-in.
No pro bono project is complete without taking time to celebrate the awesome work you and your volunteer completed together. While some kind of recognition at the close of the project is always great, be sure to celebrate smaller successes or milestones along the way. The more your volunteer feels that their efforts were valued, the more likely it is that your nonprofit has just gained a life-long supporter.
Pro tip: For suggestions on how you can celebrate your nonprofit’s volunteer, check out our list of ways to creatively say thank you here!
Take the next step towards managing your own pro bono project
While every nonprofit-volunteer partnership is unique, the core components of great pro bono project management remain constant. When preparing to project manage, be realistic about your own time commitment, treat the relationship like you would a paid contactor, keep your nonprofit team informed on progress and expectations, allow your volunteer to share their voice, and recognize them for their valuable contribution to your mission. And remember, if you run into any hiccups along the way, Taproot staff are here to help.