So, you wear your poppy with pride, donate to your favourite charities, drop a coin to the odd beggar and are always polite to those street chuggers – thereby doing your bit for ‘charidee’. But have you ever considered how donating your time and professional expertise could actually be a mutually beneficial arrangement, not just helping those in need, but also helping your business?
As an HR specialist for the charity sector, I know that many non-profit organisations, particularly smaller ones, often suffer from a lack of professional knowledge and expertise in certain areas (not least HR and employment law!) Not only that, they also suffer from financial constraints that prevent them from sourcing the advice and guidance that they so desperately need – for example in marketing, project management or social media.
It’s not just limited to voluntary, charitable and community organisations though. In the current economic climate, many small businesses are struggling with sustainability, and simply can’t afford to invest in training, external consultants etc. In fact, our economy as a whole can benefit, particularly if we take a longer-term perspective and consider how we can equip school-leavers, the long-term unemployed etc. with workplace skills and knowledge.
Making Pro-Bono Pay
The obvious solution is to learn from those who are prepared to share their knowledge, ideas, information, best practice etc., at little or no cost. But that does beg the question – for those people or organisations, what’s in it for them (apart from a sense of smugness and arm-ache from all that halo-polishing)?
Well, believe it or not, you can get a lot of professional, as well as moral, kudos from a bit of Big Society-type altruistic activity. This can be a great way of improving your own business opportunities and reputation, and not just as a way of getting free marketing. Some of the benefits to you include:
- raising the profile of your business
- getting in front of potential new clients
- testing out new ideas, processes, products or material
- developing your own personal effectiveness skills, such as presenting, coaching, writing, leadership etc.
- gaining experience in a particular industry, sector or type of work
- making useful new business contacts
- adding to your Corporate Social Responsibility credentials
- giving you something different and valuable to put on your CV
- giving you something different and valuable to tweet about or put on a Facebook or LinkedIn update (far better than your views on this week’s Dancing On Ice – although personally I’m rooting for Chico…)
Plus of course, you get the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve made a difference to an organisation, cause or person that matters to you. And who knows, you may even really enjoy it!
But we’re not talking here about shaking a tin on a street corner, standing behind a charity shop counter or painting Romanian orphanages. Here are a few ways in which you can use your professional knowledge, skills and experience to help those in need of expertise:
- Volunteer as a speaker or presenter for libraries (such as City Business Library who have a huge programme of free business seminars), networking organisations, local branches of professional membership bodies etc. These are often attended by business people who could become clients. And even if your audience is mostly unemployed people who are there to increase their employability (and because it’s cheaper than going to the theatre), one day they may get a new job, remember you and get in touch!
- Once you’ve finely tuned your speaking and presenting skills, you can take this to the next level. I recently filmed a downloadable training video for KnowHowNonProfit’s online Study Zone. It was pro-bono work, but with 90,000 subscribers to the website, it has a far wider reach than any direct marketing I could do!
- Write relevant articles for websites (like this one!) or business/trade publications. Not only will this be effectively free publicity, it also positions you as an expert in your field and gives you real professional gravitas.
- Get involved in business coaching or mentoring schemes, where you can have a one-to-one relationship with someone who is looking to develop a similar career or works in the same profession, who can benefit from learning about your experiences.
- Similarly, student schemes. For example, as a graduate of Nottingham University, I have presented Masterclass seminars to their alumni and also mentored HR students. There has also been a lot of media commentary lately about the benefits of partnerships between employers and schools, such as careers open days and work experience placements. So get in touch with your old University careers office, or secondary school, and see what you can get involved with.
- Donate useful training, learning and development resources that you no longer need, such as business magazines, books, DVDs, training course materials etc.
- If your business has the capacity, consider taking on an apprentice, or people on work trials (such as schemes for the unemployed or ex-offenders) and see who you can give a second, or even first, chance to.
- Provide free one-to-one ‘surgery sessions’ on your area of specialism, whether it’s social media, branding, graphic design, tax returns, pole-vaulting or whatever.
- Offer discounts on your products and services to registered charities, businesses under a certain size (turnover or headcount), or specific types of organisations, such as education, community or business support.
So there are plenty of ways that you can do your business a favour by doing someone else’s business a favour; no doubt you can think of even more ways (comments and suggestions welcome…). And even if ultimately no fortune comes of it, you can still gain the fame and the fun – and feeling good about yourself!