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Pro bono publico

Seven key principles for success for pro bono working

Pro bono

For anybody who, like me, who did not learn Latin at school, let me explain that pro bono publico translates to ‘for the public good’. You will no doubt be familiar with term ‘pro bono’, which is the shortened form more commonly used.

But, have you actually considered pro bono working or the potential benefits it can provide you, your organisation and, of course, the recipient of the pro bono support? Pro bono working has benefits for those providing the support, as much as for those who receive it.

What is pro bono working?
Firstly, let’s clarify what pro bono working isn’t. It is not the same as volunteering, which is about giving time for community service. Pro bono working is about providing professional services free of charge to support, more often, a charity or community organisation. The benefit for the charity is probably considered self-evident, providing them with skills it may not have, or have enough of. However, the benefits to the pro bono provider may not be so obvious. Increasingly, commercial organisations are being measured not just on their commercial success, but also their Environmental and Social and Governance (ESG) credentials. For those with slightly more years of experience, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) may be a more familiar term, and this has been assimilated into the newer ESG doctrine. We are also in a sector where demand for skilled professionals outweighs availability, so our employees’ view of our ESG credentials can be just as important as those of investors or other stakeholders. Pro bono actually supports all these endeavours and it is valuable to consider that, in particular, recent generations of employees are drawn to, and show loyalty to, organisations that also positively contribute to broader society. In some sectors, such as the legal profession, pro bono working is integrated into good working practices, with firms measured on their pro bono hours.

How prevalent is pro bono in healthcare marketing and comms?
In healthcare marketing and communications I don’t think it is unfair to say pro bono working is more ad hoc and, I suggest, not as prolific as it should be. Clearly, all the work we do in healthcare is a benefit to society, but our pro bono support could be much more significant.

Where to start
Like everything, knowing where to start and how best to implement a pro bono strategy is sometimes a barrier to the opportunity. With this in mind, the Healthcare Communications Association, supported by CharityComms, has recently launched a new Best Practice Guide to Pro Bono Working. With content written by Jennie Talman of the Passion Partnership, we hope the guide will both encourage and support more teams and organisations within our sector to initiate pro bono partnerships. The guide goes into more details of the benefits and challenges for both commercial organisations and their charity partners. It also provides some relevant case studies showing how everything can come together in practice. Importantly, it details seven key principles for success:

1. Find the right partner
It’s essential that both parties share a passion for the cause. Additionally, that the skill sets you have to offer are right for the needs of your pro bono partner.

2. Set partnership goals
Openness is key. Both parties need to share the honest reasons for the partnership – that way there is a much better chance of these being achieved.

3. Agree on objectives
Like any programme, agree on measurable and realistic goals. It’s better to do a few things well, than to overstretch.

4. Immerse yourselves in the partnership
Truly immerse yourselves in the partnership. That goes beyond just reading and should involve one-to-one interaction with key influences and perhaps representatives from the people the charity serves.

5. Be brave and creative
Pro bono working can sometimes provide greater scope for creativity than we normally have. Embrace that where appropriate.

6. Always measure impact
This should be the impact for your organisation and on the work of the charity you are supporting. Constructive feedback will help all stakeholders get more from the relationship and perhaps help determine next steps, whether they involve you as a pro bono partner again, or not.

7. Agree on an exit plan at the start
It may sound odd talking about the end of the relationship before it has even begun, but that transparency is essential to ensure there are no surprises or inappropriate expectations. If you can only commit for a time, say so. That way the plans from the start can be based on realistic expectations of what can be achieved and what will happen after the pro bono support is over. For example, part of the pro bono support could be to upskill individuals so they can continue the work after the partnership has ended.

If this short introduction has wetted your appetite to consider encouraging your team or organisation to initiate a pro bono partnership, then please download and share the guide for more information. The result of your pro bono partnership can be immensely rewarding for you, your colleagues, your organisation and, of course, your charity partner. Something else you can then be proud of in 2023.

A Best Practice Guide to Pro Bono Working can be downloaded at:

Mike Dixon is CEO of the Healthcare Communications Association (HCA) and a communications consultant

21st February 2023

From: Marketing


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