By the end of this week, you will be half way to having the basics of pro bono management under your belt. This is the third week in Taproot University’s “Six Weeks to Become a Pro Bono Manager” course. Over these six weeks we are going to walk you through the keys to the success of a pro bono manager. This guide is based on 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.
In the first two lessons you learned how to get a project done and to ensure that the nonprofit client can implement and sustain the deliverables . This week we take a close look at the art of setting and meeting client expectations. This is one of the trickiest parts of any consulting project – paid or pro bono. Pay close attention!
MEETING AND EXCEEDING CLIENT EXPECTATIONS
As with other consulting engagements, a key component in defining a project’s success is meeting the client’s expectations. With pro bono service, this takes on a new level of complexity. In addition to keeping client expectations in check so they are not unrealistically grand, truly valuable pro bono projects start by overcoming inappropriately low expectations held by both the client and pro bono team members. As a result, quality controls must be put in place to ensure high-quality expectations are clear, appropriate and obtainable.
Your job is to make sure the adage “you get what you pay for” is never used to describe your work.
There are three main obstacles you will encounter as a pro bono manager working to get meet or exceed client expectations:
Unarticulated, unaligned expectations – While the client and the pro bono teams may refer to a project’s desired output by the same name (e.g. “new website”), specific definitions and expectations can often differ if they are not mutually articulated and agreed upon. This is particularly true if the level of technical understanding differs between the client and the pro bono teams. Additionally, expectations regarding working interactions between teams throughout the engagement are more important than on traditional paid consulting engagements, since satisfaction is part of the implicit “payment” pro bono team members receive for their service.Expectations of low-quality – It can be easy to set low expectations on a pro bono project, however, this approach sells both the client and the pro bono team members short. Both sides should expect the same level of quality as on a paid engagement, unfortunately, both tend to enter a pro bono project with lowered standards. Clients assume since they are getting the project for ‘free’ they do not have the right to expect the same level of quality. As a result, client organizations do not stand up for the quality of work they are entitled and accept sub-par work. Similarly, the pro bono team may expect a lower-quality project is adequate because it is better than nothing. This too will negatively affect a project by inviting a lower level of commitment to the project and producing a less valuable deliverable.Pro bono team skill suitability – Since pro bono and paid engagements must be of the same quality level, the relevant expertise and experience of the team must also be comparable. The quality will suffer if the necessary skill level is not present.
TOOLS TO USE
As a pro bono manager, you have four main tools to use to address these challenges proactively:
Mutually acknowledge the scope of work – At the project’s start, a mutually agreed upon project scope must be created and included in a service agreement. It should articulate expectations including what the final deliverable entails, how it is intended to be used, as well as the work, information and time requirements necessary to create it.Screen pro bono team members for fit and experience – The pro bono team’s composition must be comparable to that of a paid project team. This means designing the team structure with the same roles by screening every member of a pro bono team to ensure all necessary competencies and experiences are present. As with most paid consulting engagements, the pro bono project team should include a project manager in addition to content specialists.Mutually acknowledge client needs – To ensure the deliverable is designed for maximum impact, the pro bono project team and the client should understand the client’s direct needs. The pro bono project team should create a requirements brief or memorandum of understanding after conducting an initial discovery phase, then the client should review, share, revise, and sign off on it. This way, the scope of work is always based on an accurate and defensible understanding of client’s specific needs. For example, on a website project, this could include the organization’s target audience/users, brand attributes, technical requirements, and desired short and long-term outcomes.Adhere to consistent standards – Every aspect of a pro bono project’s quality must be on par with that of a paid project; from expectation setting, preparation and relationship management, to time management and delivery. This applies both to the pro bono project team and the client organization, as they must dedicate the same quality of work to this project as they do to program delivery. By adhering to the same standards of excellence, a pro bono engagement can meet even the highest expectations.
Questions to consider this week:
What biases do you have about the nonprofit sector and the nonprofit professionals you are serving? How does that impact the expectations you set inadvertently?What would you like your nonprofit client(s) to expect from your team? How can you not only express this to them but also demonstrate it?How can you create a safe environment for the client(s) to give you direct and constructive feedback?
Even if expectations are met, that doesn’t guarantee that the client or pro bono consultants walk away reporting high satisfaction with the project. Bedside manner matters in medicine and in pro bono consulting. Next week, the fourth in this course, focuses on how to manage pro bono projects to drive high satisfaction with the group’s interactions.