Nonprofits fight the good fight, often with far fewer resources than they need. The good news is that we can help, as businesses and individuals. At Comrade we commit ourselves each year to supporting a number of organizations here in the San Francisco Bay Area. With each engagement we learn something new and refine our approach so we can provide the most value. Whether you’re starting out in pro-bono work or just in need of a reset, here are five time-tested pointers to help you achieve outcomes that benefit your clients.
There’s nothing quite like making a local impact, so consider what’s right around you. Your community is packed with organizations that need support. Find them, understand their needs and evaluate how you might be able to help. Every year, Comrade does something simple: We fill up two giant barrels with food for the Alameda County Community Food Bank, which serves 240 nonprofits throughout our county. In 2015 we rolled up our sleeves and made a bigger impact by promoting the Food Bank through an art installation in our windows. Not only was it seen, photographed and shared by thousands of people, but our neighbors in Old Oakland contributed, too. To date, we’ve donated more than 2,500 pounds of food.
Find the intersection of an organization’s needs and your strengths, and design a project around that sweet spot. Beyond money, it’s the additional value you can provide to help an organization achieve a goal that it might not be able to reach on its own. Earlier this year AXIS Dance Company asked us to help them rebrand for their upcoming 30-year anniversary. They already held an esteemed place in contemporary dance, but needed a fresh vision for the next 30 years. In early January our brand strategists sat in on a dance rehearsal and met with the AXIS leadership team to dig into the core ideas and imperatives that would shape our work. From there, we quickly iterated on a new brand messaging platform and visual identity system that they could use in time for their anniversary. After a few short weeks of hard work, epiphanies, laughter and tears of joy, AXIS had the toolkit they needed to roll out their rebrand.
Even with the best of intentions, “help” isn’t always helpful. That’s why it’s essential to ensure your pro-bono work will benefit the recipient organization. Every holiday season, in addition to our food drive, we select a nonprofit to support. When we chose Delancey Street Foundation last year, we talked with them about what we do at Comrade and asked if any of our services would be of use to them. The answer was a resounding yes. It turned out that managing their website—specifically the content—was a constant source of pain. What they needed was training. This year, we’re conducting a series of skill-building sessions onsite with them so they can learn how to publish and edit content on their website more efficiently.
Design a project that can deliver the most impact possible without jeopardizing your own business’s health. Implement the same controls you’d place on a billable project. You can do a lot with a small, passionate team in a short time frame. For the best chance of success, set clear expectations with the organization you’re supporting. This way, when it’s time to put the pencil down, everyone can feel great about what they accomplished. This year we’re applying our agile process to the new website we’re building for Meals on Wheels of Alameda County.
Once the work is done, there’s one more thing you can provide: exposure to your network. Use your social channels to get the word out about the great organization you’re supporting. Better yet, tell people how they can help. It’s our tradition to do a bit of pixel-pushing to make our holiday cards engaging and playful—always in the spirit of driving awareness and action. For Habitat for Humanity East Bay/Silicon Valley we got our network to design 500 gingerbread houses, and we made a $10 donation for each one. We also made it easy for them to make their own donations. For Oakland Super Heroes Mural Project we did the same thing—only this time it was pixel-art super heroes. This holiday card was shared with an audience six times greater than our network, exponentially boosting awareness of an otherwise small initiative.
Remember: you can accomplish a lot, quickly, and with constraints. The key to success is staying focused on your clients’ needs, so that your work supports their work. Have at it—and tweet us your success stories @comradeagency.