Ah, pro bono consulting. A great way to add some credit into your karma bank, tack on some credibility, and maybe even help an organization in need.

Over the past few years, we’ve taken on a number of pro bono web design and SEO clients. The majority of them have been for web design / development but a few were to help with SEO and/or social media.

Overall we’ve had a great experience with doing pro bono, and continue to seek out organizations that might fit in with our team. We like to always have 1 pro bono client on our roster.

But lets call it what it really is: doing free work. So before you go any further and working for free, here is what I’ve learned over the last few years.

Spell it all out, preferably in a contract

This might sound odd, but it is essential to clearly define exactly what the scope of your project is, how long it will last, and what is involved.

As tech savvy individuals, SEO’s end up doing PC repair, website hosting, email marketing, and everything in-between. Make sure you not only spell this out in a contract, but talk about it as well.

To be more specific, make sure you agree to:

  • a start and end date
  • scope of work (exactly what you are agreeing to do)
  • communications & how often you will talk / email etc

In addition it is always a good idea to throw in a no-harm clause so that you won’t be held liable in case anything bad happens.

seo web development contract

Finding and selecting pro bono clients

I’ve found that a simple Facebook status update or tweet announcing we are accepting a web design or SEO pro bono client will provide a flurry of inquires almost immediately.

Finding pro bono clients isn’t really that hard. Selecting them is a different story.

The first question I ask myself when selecting a pro bono client is: is this a worthy cause that we want to associate our agency with?

For instance, lets say a struggling organization named “Donations for Strong, Caucasian Males (DSCM)” needed help. Sure, they might be a worthy organization, but is that something we want to associate with?

In my experience, it is better to partner with organizations that have a more broad range of goals such as cancer research, hunger, or homelessness. Not only are these worthwhile causes but they normally won’t cause any blow-back from a PR standpoint.

After you’ve found someone to work with, figure out who your point person is going to be. Make sure the project manager and point person vibe well with one another.

If all is well, proceed.

Case in point: we pro bono’d the police department!

A little over a year ago we received an email inquiry for a new website design from a local police department. We were up against 3-4 other agencies so instead of getting into a bidding war we low-balled to infinity and decided it would be worth it to do it pro bono. It was a simple 5 page WordPress site and the officer in charge was a pleasure to deal with. He was a great communicator and sent us a ton of cool shirts. Plus we all got to attend the k9 competition which was so cool!

So let me ask you a question, how much is a testimonial from a police department worth to your agency? $10k? 50? more? I can’t put a price on it.It is the gift that keeps on giving.

I am also very grateful for the work that the police department does for our community. They get a lot of flak (no pun intended) and have a very tough and dangerous job. It was our pleasure to work with them.

pro bono web development

Making friends with benefits

Depending on how your agency or consulting gig is structured, doing SEO or web development pro bono especially for 501c(3)’s can be a tax nice break. I am definitely not an accountant and am usually very misinformed about tax stuff, so check with your accountant or financial adviser.

In addition to tax breaks, there are a number of another benefits you might be able to score. Some organizations take in huge amounts of web traffic. It is perfectly reasonable to ask for a well placed link (make sure it is no-follow) or a sidebar advertisement on their site.

Maybe they have a huge list or do a mailing? Perhaps you can ask them for access to their list or to include a flyer in their next mailing. Or maybe they have a Facebook page with 17k followers ripe for the picking. There are droves of possibilities. Just make sure you define all this in the beginning. You don’t wanna create an awkward scenario or hurt feelings.

Ok now for the secret I promised

Writing that headline just felt very spammy. Anyway, doing pro bono work most of the time will turn into a huge lead generation system. If you do even halfway decent work for a client, chances are they will go out of their way to tell their co-workers, vendors, customers, friends and family about this and word will spread.

Not only will doing pro bono work most likely generate some new referrals and clients, but it is great branding for your company as well.

The big(er) picture

At the end of the day you get to do something good for someone in need. There is no better feeling than being able to help someone using your skill-sets.

We’ve just wrapped up our most recent pro bono client, Treats for Troops – a 501c(3) dedicated to sending US troops care packages. We are currently accepting another pro bono client, so if you or someone you know is in need of a new website or internet marketing services, feel free to reach out.