With the growth of pro bono programs at companies, consulting firms, intermediaries and graduate schools there is an associated growth in the need for a new occupation – pro bono managers. These are talented professionals who connect talent with need and help ensure impact.
Over the next six weeks we are going to walk you through the keys to the success of a pro bono manager. This guide based Taproot’s experience managing over 1,500 pro bono projects and developing many of the leading pro bono programs for our corporate partners from the Gap Inc. to Deloitte to Capital One. By the end you will have the basics down and will be able to proactively manage projects to get the right results.
This week we will focus on what is perhaps the toughest challenge of a pro bono manager – completing a project and doing it in a timely manner. The key: Treating the pro bono client the same as a paying client.
GETTING TO COMPLETION
Completing a pro bono engagement in a timely manner is important for the pro bono team and the client, as since in lieu of payment, the ‘budget’ allocated for a pro bono project is the participant’s time. If a project takes longer than intended, either in duration or total number of hours dedicated, there is a high risk of losing pro bono team members, undermining the quality of the project, or simply not completing the project.
Time is also a limited resource for the client organization. While the client is not paying cash for the project, they are providing their staff member’s time, another scarce resource. A project that takes longer than originally projected also means delayed implementation and value for the client – or, if the project cannot be completed or is finished too late to be implemented, it will be of no use to the client organization.
There are three main obstacles you will encounter as a pro bono manager working to get a project done on time:
1) Scope creep – While it usually stems from good intentions, an expanded or straying scope often leads to a project running overtime, failing to meet the original need of the client organization, or providing deliverables (ie. tools, strategies, or documents) the client is not prepared to implement.
Both the pro bono team and the client team can drive scope creep.
2) Team turnover – Project tardiness is commonly caused by losing a team member, either on the pro bono or client team. Without payment, the traditional driver of commitment and accountability, a pro bono project’s timeliness is easily derailed by team turnover.
3) Prioritization – Whether team members are engaging in pro bono service as part of their workday or as an extracurricular activity, pro bono projects are often marginalized by not receiving the same level of priority and time allocation as paid projects.
TOOLS TO USE
As a pro bono manager, you have four main tools to use to address these challenges proactively:
1) Stick to an approved timeline – Establish a clear scope for the project, including a detailed timeline. The client and pro bono project team should sign off this document before work begins. The timeline should be realistic given the availability of the pro bono and client team members. Deadlines should accurately reflect a realistic pace for both teams.
2) Take a formal approach to timeliness – Both parties should be clear they must work together to keep the project on track as timeliness is critical. This means adhering to the set scope and not adding elements that require more time without formally revising the timeline, as well as having both parties agree and commit to the modification – just as you would formally adjust the budget and contract for a paying client.
3) Establish roles and responsibilities – At the outset, establish clearly articulated roles and responsibilities and the decision-making structure for the pro bono and client teams. In addition to helping solidify accountability and commitment to the project, this also aids in filling vacant roles and expertise if turnover occurs.
4) Identify fixed milestones – With the client, identify a minimum of three key fixed milestones over the course of the project (e.g. completing focus groups or the first draft) to be used as reference points during the project to gauge how it is progressing and what, if any, adjustments need to be made to the timeline to stay on track. Based on when these milestones are reached, the pro bono and client teams should have a clear, shared sense of when the next milestones and ultimate completion will occur.
Questions to consider this week:
- Think of a project you have led (in any setting) and reflect on where there were challenges in staying on track. What did you do to get back on track? Which of the tools mentioned here did you employ? How could using the others have helped?
- What is the next/first pro bono project you will be overseeing? How can you put these basic tools to use from the start?