At SpinWeb, we love working with non-profits. If there was some way for all our team members to feed their families doing nothing but pro bono work for our favorite non-profits we would do it. Unfortunately, good karma doesn’t keep the lights on so we do need to get paid.

However, we do look for ways to give back to the community as much as possible, both individually and as a company. One of the ways we do this is through an annual pro bono program.

Every year, SpinWeb chooses one non-profit to donate services to. We design and build a brand new website, create a marketing strategy, and help kickstart a functional volunteer marketing committee. We’re thrilled to have chosen Purchased this year as our winning non-profit.

Sounds pretty good, right? Who wouldn’t want tens of thousands of dollars worth of professional marketing services at no charge to your non-profit. Well, we’re not the only agency that does this. There are agencies all around the country that have similar programs.

So how do you get in on that? If you want to try to win a pro bono marketing award for your non-profit, there are a few specific things you can do that will help.

Be aware of what’s out there (a.k.a “pay attention”)

You’ll never earn some help if you don’t go after it. Make it a habit to search for opportunities. You can start with a simple Google search for things like “pro bono nonprofit marketing opportunities” and see what comes up.

However, you’ll want to go deeper in order to consistently get in front of more opportunities. Try setting up a Google Alert or two (or more!) for the keywords “non-profit” and “pro bono” so you’ll get notified on a regular basis when programs like this surface.

Google Alert

Be sure to set up variations to cover all the bases, like “nonprofit” and “non-profit” and “pro bono” vs “probono.”

Another tool you should be using is Twitter Search. Twitter uses a system of hashtags to specify context or topic. You can post tweets using a specific hashtag to group them by context or keyword. You can also search by hashtags to find relevant content.

For example, if you go to Twitter.com and type in “#nonprofit” and “#probono” in the search box (hashtags are single words) guess what you get? Yep! A list of potential opportunities to apply for pro bono programs. Not all will be marketing related but many are.

Hashtags

As you can see, there are lots of opportunities out there. You can set yourself a reminder to do regular searches, or use something like Twilert to automate it. HootSuite also lets you set up search streams for keywords like this.

Now that you’re finding all sorts of great opportunities…

Make your organization desirable to work with

Yes, we know that your non-profit is amazing, makes the world a better place, and is staffed with awesome people. However, there are some specific things that can make your organization more desirable to work with.

First, make sure your mission is clear. At SpinWeb, we’ve received applications from non-profits that didn’t seem to have a good grip on what they did. Some organizations fell victim to the trap of using too much “corporate speak” in their applications and/or on their websites. They might be doing great work but we had no idea what it was or how they did it. Since our team members all vote during the process to decide which organization we work with, your mission needs to be very clear and specific so that people can quickly understand what you do.

If you deliver food to impoverished children in Africa, say so plainly. Don’t say that you “empower a global network of sustainable food distribution systems” or beat around the bush. This is good practice not only for applying for pro bono help but for your communications in general.

Next, you’ll want to make sure your organization is set up for a successful relationship with an agency. While they may be great organizations that make a difference, some non-profits are set up with so many cumbersome bureaucratic complexities that it can cause problems when working with creative marketing agencies.

For example, when building a website, it’s important that all decision makers are involved in the process throughout the engagement. It’s also important that design approvals are as streamlined as possible. One of the most common reasons a website project slows down is committee-based red tape. If you set up a huge committee to work on the project, it’s going to slow things down and cause the project to hit speed bumps.

When you apply for a pro bono program, state clearly who is the point person for the project at your end. Explain that your decision makers (like your executive director, board president, and/or your communications director) are taking point on the project and will be involved at every step along the way. Explain that your board is visionary and supportive. This sends a clear message that you will be committed to being responsive and accessible, which is music to the ears of any agency.

Finally, make sure you remain flexible. One of the great things about working on a pro bono project as an agency is not having to worry about budgets. We can be creative and really focus on delivering the best solution without having to make compromises in functionality or strategy.

We view all engagements with our clients as partnerships. We bring ideas to the table as do our clients. It works best when both parties are flexible. If you enter the engagement with very strict, inflexible requirements, then you might lose sight of the big picture and miss out on some great recommendations from your agency.

When you apply, go ahead and state your ideas and what you want to accomplish but also explain that you are looking for ideas from the agency. This sets a tone of partnership and lets the sponsoring agency know that you are open to ideas and that you will be working together to create a great website and/or marketing program.

Another note: offer in advance to be a case study for the sponsoring agency. That will increase the value of the partnership for both parties.

These are some good ways to make your application look great to agencies offering a pro bono program. So now that you’ve applied…

Continue to network

Most, if not all non-profits who apply for pro bono programs simply submit the application and then anxiously away the verdict. Don’t give up at this point… network!

After you apply, reach out to a key team member at the sponsoring agency and ask to sit down with them to tell them more about your mission. Ask if you can come in for a few minutes and do a short presentation for their team. Do whatever you can to connect with people within that agency and help them catch the spirit of your mission.

Most agencies will list their team members on their website but you can also use LinkedIn to connect with people. Obviously don’t be pushy but don’t underestimate the goodwill that your non-profit status can create. If they are anything like SpinWeb’s team, agency teams get really excited about the prospect of donating their talents and abilities to deserving organizations who are helping the community. Take advantage of that and make your case.

Stay in touch

As you can see, there are lots of opportunities to win some pro bono marketing help out there. With some effort, you can increase your chances of getting chosen. However, even if you don’t win, stay on the agency’s email list and apply again.

Or see if you can recruit one or more of their team members as board or committee members. Even if another organization is selected for the project, you might find that some of their team members would be interested in donating some time and expertise in the form of volunteering. It never hurts to ask.

So do regular searches, make sure you are set up for success, and continue to network and you may increase your chances of earning some professional pro bono marketing help.

Michael Reynolds

Michael Reynolds

President/CEO at SpinWeb
Michael Reynolds is President/CEO of SpinWeb – a digital agency located in Indianapolis, IN. As an Inbound Marketing Certified Professional with Honors Distinction, Michael regularly blogs, publishes educational industry content, and speaks at conferences around the country covering topics like business strategies, inbound marketing, and technology.
Michael Reynolds

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