Probono

Tired of Nonprofits Asking for Free Stuff, It’s all your Fault.

 Owls always look so angry. don't they. 

Owls always look so angry. don't they. 

originally posted on Medium.com

As a former nonprofit fundraiser I want to tell you a secret…..now lean in a little… The truth is we train, teach, and coach nonprofits to ask for free stuff. Their boards question all expenses and they are literally forced to ask for free before paying. This is regardless of how big their budget is or how much their CEO makes. The problems with that system and methodology are for another day.

Lately, I have overheard and read countless stories of businesses, particularly start-ups, small businesses, restaurants and artists openly complaining about nonprofits constantly berating them for free stuff, discounts, auction items, etc. But I am here to tell you something hard to hear; the problem with all the complaining rests solely at the feet of the business owners.

Now before you get up in arms, you need to know that I get asked for free services all of the time. No, I haven’t attained a higher level of enlightenment. I am not so advanced in mindfullness as to not be bothered. What I did do, was spend time thinking critically about how to do pro bono, who should qualify, how I could create a win-win situation for both of us and common pitfalls that I experienced as a nonprofit staff member working with companies on pro bono projects.

Common Pitfalls in Pro Bono Programs

1. You over promise and under deliver — know your boundaries and what you can and cannot do

2. You lack an understanding of what makes nonprofits tick

3. You don’t understand the legal structure of nonprofit boards and how to manage them

4. You treat them as a “bench time” project and don’t devote your most awesome leaders to the team

5. You take on too many at one time and fail to deliver

6. You do not treat them as a real contract so it meanders as a project subject to mismatched expectations and scope creep

Create a Policy/Practice/Belief System

A few years ago I met Matthew Manos owner of verynice.co through a client engagement. He is super passionate about pro bono and the delivery of quality services to nonprofits. He wrote a fabulous book “How to Give Half of Your Work Away For Free” that you can buy, download or read online. While that model did not prove to be sustainable for me, it was enough to get me thinking about the need to define a shape a program and put parameters and measurements in place.

Our Belief System about Probono Work:

1. They deserve to be treated just like a regular client

2. They should receive the same investment of time and attention regardless of their ability to pay, and

3. All services need to be delivered without strings attached.

So why is it your fault? Because you haven’t done the work to establish your own belief system and communicated it with others. Or because you think they should be grateful for anything and string a project out forever or get frustrated which causes the relationship to sour. Worse yet, you deliver a substandard product and word spreads.

Still interested? Here are some first steps you should take:

Your First Steps

1. Know your own market — Talk to nonprofit leaders

2. Know nonprofits and their distinct needs and differences

3. Understand how this builds off of your own portfolio of services

4. DO NOT make nonprofits jump through significant hoops to apply

5. Judge interest based on philosophical fit, capacity of nonprofit to receive services, and your own bandwidth

6. Be honest and set a threshold of time or a monetary amount

Two years into our own program and I won’t say it is perfect but putting the time in has meant that we can say yes, and more often no, and back it up with solid reasons. We have learned a few lessons along the way about capacity of a nonprofit needed to handle probono services, passion fit for consultants, and when to spot a project that is way bigger than what we can fit in our hourly limitation. We’ve also developed language around talking to clients about the program, its benefits, and what it isn’t designed for.

What if the next time someone asked you for free stuff and services you directed them to an application instead of feeling burdened by their request? (Here’s ours) It is simple, but also provides us easy places to say no.

Interested in starting your own probono program, email us for our probono manifesto with tips and ideas. Also, feel free to reach out. We are really passionate about helping companies think through this.

2017 Probono Bonanza and the First Draft of Our Probono Manifesto

probono program corporate structure

This week we welcomed four new probono clients into the fold and finished work with two others. This brings our total number of probono clients to eight for the year. It is our goal to work with at least one probono client per month. The clients below represent $16,000 in free services in 2017. 

Why Probono?

We have a firm belief that nonprofits deserve access to high quality consulting. We also think that businesses get frustrated by being asked to offer probono services on a regular basis. So, we took time to think of our ideal probono clients, our capacity, and what nonprofits need to get out of a positive probono experience. At the end of the day, they deserve to be treated just like a regular client and receive the same investment of time and attention regardless of their ability to pay, and all services need to be delivered without strings attached

Kicking Off With New Clients

Recent Successes

Qualifications for Probono

  1. Annual Budget under $150,000 rationale - need services, but no or little capacity to pay
  2. At least one paid staff member rationale - you need capacity to handle consulting work
  3. Nonprofit or church rationale - we reserve this service for non-profit motivated entities

 

Want to Start Your Own Program?

Are you a company and want information on our probono program and how to structure your own? Feel free to download our PROBONO MANIFESTO and please feel free to reach out to our Founder, Sarah Milston at sarah @ thesparkmill.com. 

POWER OF GOOD 2017

I remain a firm believer that “nonprofits can and do change the world.”  I also believe they couldn’t do it without volunteers.  That is why I am so excited to announce that The Spark Mill is again partnering with HandsOn Greater Richmond for the fourth annual Power of Good to celebrate National Volunteer Week.  This is our way of saying a great big THANK YOU to every single person who shows up and gives their time to make our community a better place.  We can’t properly thank everyone if we don’t know who they are!  So…we are relying on you – yes YOU - to tell us who is making a difference out there. 

  • Nonprofit Executive Directors, Volunteer Coordinators, program heads, and employees:  tell us who is showing up! 
  • Churches: whose name is always on the sign-up lists?
  • Parents:  do you have a child that loves helping others?
  • Friends/Family:  tell us about that friend of yours that is always donating their time.  

This is a chance to let your favorite volunteers know how important they are to you, and for our community see how important all of our volunteers are to making things tick around here.

DO NOW

Nominate a volunteer. I cannot explain to you how it can make their entire year to be recognized for their work. Whether they are a board member, an office volunteer, a tireless advocate - take 5 minutes to say thank you, right here on our nomination form.  Heck, nominate 20!  From March 1 – March 31st we will be accepting nominations of volunteers throughout the region.  The nomination is simple, we require some basic information and the answer to the following question: “How do they power good in our community?”

THE TRADITION

In case you’ve missed it, the past three years have been full of creativity and art and fun and a little wine…as we partnered with local artists to celebrate some of the nominees – 2014 Tiffany Glass Ferreira transformed a selected group into Shrinky Dink Selfies.  In 2015 Patience Salgado presented a photographic documentary of 10 randomly selected nominees and local RVA area artists donated works as part of a silent auction benefiting HandsOn Greater Richmond and all of the fabulous work they do with volunteers throughout the metro Richmond area.  In 2016 we ran a social media based recognition where over 70 volunteers were lifted up and shouted out for the important work they do to power good in the community.

 2017

Join us for a big party at The Spark Mill on April 19, 2017 from 4:30-6:30. REGISTER HERE. Come play with polaroids, eat good food, and come together and say THANK YOU! Stay tuned for more information. 

 

Probono Spotlight: Reach out & Read Virginia Reviews Online Presence and Strategies

Just because your organization does not have a huge budget and tons of staff doesn't mean you aren't impactful. The Spark Mill certainly doesn't believe an organization's size should preclude them from receiving external assistance. That is why we have an ongoing commitment to providing high quality services to small organizations who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford working with a consultant. The probono program is a key feature of our goal of equitable access. Last month, we focused our attention on Reach Out & Read Virginia (RORVA).

RORVA builds on the unique relationship between parents and medical providers to promote early literacy and school readiness in pediatric exam rooms statewide by giving new books to children and advice to parents about the importance of reading aloud. Reach Out and Read delivers an “ROR" prescription to over 124,000 children and their families by over 500 trained medical providers in 163 pediatric practices/medical systems in Virginia.  Their key question was: How do we transform this work into stories we can tell through social media, on our website, and with marketing?

Our Process

Gather

An environmental scan and assessment of the current marketing and social media activities of RORVA was performed. The review included online analysis of existing marketing activities and a scan of fellow Reach Out & Read affiliates.

Soak

Taking what was gathered, the leadership of RORVA sat down with TSM to review and finalize a marketing and social media strategy complete with content and strategy recommendations developed specifically for RORVA.

Radiate

Because of Rebecca’s astute knowledge about how to utilize social media, she has set us up with a plan to take forward in order to help elevate the brand of Reach Out and Read Virginia. We look forward to implementing and measuring the impact of this strategy that The Spark Mill helped us create. Thank you, Rebecca and Sarah and look forward to working together in the future!
— Susan Rockwell, Executive Director

We rounded out the project by providing training and instruction on specific tools, techniques, and platforms outlined in the marketing and social media strategy to improve efficiency and effectiveness of efforts. Content related templates and tools were also provided to support and facilitate ongoing efforts by RORVA staff and volunteers. 

When you’re a statewide organization with a small staff, it can be very easy to let your marketing and communications efforts fall by the wayside. However, making the time to take stock of your online brand and developing a plan on how to focus your (limited) resources can pay huge dividends – by providing clarity and direction, as well as making a seemingly daunting task less overwhelming.   

 

Stay Tuned for updates from our other current probono clients - Startup Virginia and The Pace Center for Campus and Community Ministry. 

Antioch United Methodist Church Plans for the Future: Probono Spotlight

 Antioch United Methodist Church

Antioch United Methodist Church

Just because you are little does not mean you aren't making an impact, and certainly does not mean you aren't deserving of some outside help. At The Spark Mill we have an ongoing commitment to providing high quality services to small organizations who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford working with a consultant. The probono program is a key feature of our goal of equitable access. Additionally, we have been working over the last few months to adapt our strategic planning process to the needs of faith organizations and the unique role they play in the health and wellness of a community. This past weekend these two areas aligned as we focused our attention on Antioch United Methodist Church in Kenbridge, VA. 

Antioch has flourished in the past two years with attendance, giving, and mission work all growing substantially. Their key question was: Where do we focus next and how do we accomplish our goals? 

OUR PROCESS

Gather

We relied on two pieces of information for the gather phase - a Congregational Electronic Survey and a Congregational Measures of Health data set. With a great response rate to the survey we were able to dive in and see where the congregants' views about the church, its mission, and future focus all lined up. 

Soak

A small team comprised of members of the Vitality Committee, Church Council, and other church leaders sat down for the entire day on Saturday to make sense of the data. We spent time looking at the environment, looking at the congregation, and looking at the community. 

Radiate

We ended the day with five solid goals for the church to build on, assigned them all to committees, and discussed ways to engage the rest of the congregation over the next few months. 

 Close up of Map of Our Community exercise - What does the community need?

Close up of Map of Our Community exercise - What does the community need?

There were some major "AHA" moments, epiphanies if you will, throughout this process both by the Antioch team and The Spark Mill.  Sometimes it just takes an outside perspective to help you recognize who/where you are and where you are headed.  As we finish up their report and strategic plan we have that warm fuzzy feeling, knowing we had an opportunity to participate in a transformative experience. 

Power of Good 2016: A Powerful Way to Say Thank You

You may have heard me talk about how “nonprofits can and do change the world” – it’s something I am passionate about and have spent many years supporting.  During that time it’s become apparent that few, if any, nonprofits could effect much change without their volunteers.  That is why I am so excited to announce that The Spark Mill is again partnering with HandsOn Greater Richmond for the third annual Power of Good to celebrate National Volunteer Week, April 10-16, 2016.  

Maybe you are an organization that would love the opportunity to recognize some volunteers that really keep things going?   Maybe you are a friend, family member, or fellow volunteer that knows just the person or people that deserves a shout out?  Don’t be shy, let them know they are making a difference, and they are appreciated – NOMINATE THEM! From March 1 – March 31st we will be accepting nominations of volunteers throughout the region.  The nomination is simple, we require some basic information and the answer to the following question: “How do they power good in our community?”

DO NOW

Before you read anymore, nominate a volunteer. I cannot explain to you how it can make their entire year to be recognized for their work. Whether they are a board member, an office volunteer, a tireless advocate - just take 5 minutes to say thank you, right here on our nomination form.  Heck, nominate 20!

THE TRADITION

In case you’ve missed it, the past two years have been full of creativity and art and fun and a little wine…as we partnered with local artists to celebrate some of the nominees – 2014 Tiffany Glass Ferreira transformed a selected group into Shrinky Dink Selfies and in 2015 Patience Salgado presented a photographic documentary of 10 randomly selected nominees.  In addition local RVA area artists donated their works as part of a silent auction benefiting HandsOn Greater Richmond and all of the fabulous work they do with volunteers throughout the metro Richmond area.

2016

This year we are still hammering out the details of the event but save the evening of April 14, 2016 to come celebrate all the good that volunteering does in our community. 

 

Girls Rock! RVA Proves Perfect Client to Kick Off Pro Bono Program

 Pro Bono: Sparking change for emerging nonprofits and organizations.

The belief that nonprofits can and do change the world, and an overwhelming desire to help them do just that have been at the center of Sarah Milston’s career for over a decade. A passion to provide retreat facilitation, basic strategic planning, or other guidance to nonprofits without financial means led to the recent launch of an official pro bono program at The Spark Mill. This was largely inspired by this awesome book - How to Give Away Half Your Work for Free. 

THE CHALLENGE

Nonprofit organizations, in general, are a commendable group – with causes near and dear to our hearts, relying on volunteers to accomplish much of their work, and generally working with limited budgets.  As such, The Spark Mill has set some parameters around the program, namely an annual budget not to exceed $150,000 and a cap of 10 hours of pro bono services.  The idea being - if The Spark Mill can effect needed change with 10 hours of dedicated work an organization otherwise could not afford – that is a viable candidate for the program.              

THE WORK

Sarah facilitated a one-day retreat with the all-volunteer staff where they worked on a map of their landscape, identified short-term and long-term goals and strategies to achieve those goals.  Together they came up with a more comprehensive mission statement and put their values on paper, ensuring everyone was on the same page going forward. Following the retreat, The Spark Mill took the information gathered and created a basic two year Strategic Plan for Girls Rock! RVA.  

After the retreat, The Spark Mill reached out to Girls Rock! RVA to get some feedback on their experience, and they said  

“The organizers of Girls Rock! RVA are a passionate bunch, and we have a range of personal, political, and artistic motivations for the work that we do with our nonprofit. It gets emotional for us sometimes, which is generally a positive thing, but as a group of working artists/activists, running and growing Girls Rock can feel overwhelming at times. This visioning session made us feel much more in control of our work, more confident in achieving our goals and realizing our mission, and helped us discover resources, both internal and external, to put to use for our organization and the people we serve.”
— Patty Conway, Board Member

About Girls Rock! Rva

Their mission: We empower girls, gender non-conforming, and trans youth through music, art and activism.

What they do: week-long summer music & arts camps, free richmond instrument lending library

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN APPLYING FOR THE SPARK MILL PRO BONO PROGRAM? Fill out this form.