According to Wikipedia, pro bono comes from the Latin phrase pro bono publico and means “for the public good.” In practice, it is providing a service for a reduced fee or for free for people and organizations that can’t pay for those services.
I get requests all the time from people who request special consideration when I figure my fees. If the conditions warrant it, I will reduce fees for them. But I don’t consider that pro bono. My pro bono is generally done for organizations that need my help but don’t have funds to pay me. As a member of a charity board, I know how hard it can be to keep an organization afloat with funding cutbacks. If I have the time, and believe in what the organization is doing, I will see what I can do pro bono.
I might do more, if more of the organizations behaved themselves better. It’s frustrating to start work on a project to find that you’ve been lied to, can’t get the info you need, and the organization won’t make the necessary deadlines. When there are problems, the group tends to make me the scapegoat. They tell everyone about their problems but I can’t respond because of confidentiality rules. Very Frustrating!
So here is my rant-
Dear organization that wants my services free,
I will be glad to discuss doing work for you for free or at a reduced rate. But before you ask, remember that I will be seeing your financial information and I will know what you could really pay me. Be fair and honest with me and I will fairly price my services. If I find out that you lied to me, this is the only work I will ever do for you.
I know that you want to get this process completed and that is why deadlines were set. But in order for me to meet those deadlines, you have to get the info to me in time so that I can do the work to meet that deadline. 4pm on the due date is too late.
Waiting for the IRS or state tax department to respond is frustrating, but calling me every 2 days to see if I’ve heard anything is not going to get a response faster. And remember, sometimes the answer is “No”.
I need information from you. In some cases, I need a lot of information and some of it seems to have nothing to do with your issue. But I need it all the same. I shouldn’t have to hound you to get that info. If I tell you I need the name, position and address of the organization’s board, I need the name, address and position. And all that info should be going through just one person. Don’t tell me to call so-and-so and ask them.
Look, I like helping an organization that wants to make the world better. And I’ll consider reducing or cutting fees. But you have to do your part and get me all the info I need when I need it. And if you wondered why so many professional people avoid pro bono work, it’s because we have been burnt by organizations that forget that the money they are saving means they will need to do a little more and be more organized. No one likes being taken advantage of by someone they are helping.