Pro Bono – part 1

That was this month’s topic for discussion via #aiachat on Twitter. I found it apropos because I had read an article about architectural practice and pro bono work in Metropolis Magazine, which was written in response to a recently published book about the above subject, The Power of Pro Bono. Plus, I had submitted an application to DesigNYC, a non-profit organization whose aim is “improving the lives of New Yorkers through the power of good design”.

The #aiachat on Twitter was moderated by @AIANational, who submits “official” questions for participants to respond or start a dialogue. Anybody with a Twitter account is welcome to participate. For more information about participating in the next #aiachat, click here.

Apparently many who participated in the #aiachat admitted to being approached for pro bono work. I’ve included several interesting responses from participants below:

@liraluis: Q1 Yes, by both NPOs (non-profit org) and, yes, for-profit organizations
@AishaDBdesigner: Q1 response: Always get approached + see opportunities by non profits. My question is how much time can one really dedicate?
@tdatx: Yes, mostly through a formal professional services organization called The Real Estate Council in Dallas
@AllisonBroSco: we are approached mainly from our local community organizations, and we participate when and how we can
@DreamwallsGlass: Q1: I get a lot of questions for pro-bono work from non-profits on which I either serve on a board or volunteer with.

I thought it was interesting that the question and responses were posed where the client approached the architect/designer for pro bono work vs. the other way around. I think one of the interesting things about organizations like DesigNYC is they are set up to help facilitate architects and designers with non-profit organizations who could use our services to benefit our local communities. I don’t see why architects and designers shouldn’t be a little more pro-active with getting involved with local NPO’s while promoting good design.

Other questions were raised shortly after the discussion was initiated with the first question:

@AIANational: How about individual clients inquiring about pro bono work in addition to organizations?
@HawkinsArch: @AIANational . Sure I have individual clients asking for free work all the time! 🙂 But not sure that is really Pro Bono…

I was curious about the difference between doing work for free vs. pro bono; and I do not include speculative work, which in my opinion is something else entirely. Below are some interesting responses.

@AIANational: @lafemmearchitct and @HawkinsArchGreat point; is there a difference in free v. pro bono work?
@DreamwallsGlass: Response to @lafemmearchitct A GOOD pro bono piece of work should be something more pr-worthy. A lot of people ask for “free” 🙂
@DESIGNSTUDIO26: goodness yes. free is mostly not good for the practice, or profession.
@liraluis:@aianational Free benefits singularity. Probono benefits society. @lafemmearchitct @HawkinsArch
@LowenCorp: Pro Bono means the business is involved somehow- Free is just ‘giving’ things away.
@bslarch: pro bono by definition means work done for the public good. this differentiates it from freebies!

I agree with @DESIGNSTUDIO26 that doing something for free is not good for the practice, or the profession as I believe it devalues our efforts.  Also doing something for free implies no or little value, which is contrary to the time and effort we put into each problem we solve. There are many architects and designers who struggle to make their clients understand the value of the services they provide. Throwing “free” into the conversation only makes our argument less effective, and what we do less appreciated.

@liraluis put it best and simply regarding the difference between free and pro bono. I’d also like to add that the difference between doing something for free vs. pro bono is how one feels when services are rendered. I suspect that professionals who provide “pro bono” services to NPOs, would be more rewarding as their efforts, however great or small, will have a positive impact on the community.

I thought this was an interesting questions as architects do not normally advertise their practices or services like a lawyer or cosmetics doctor with print ads or billboards. Instead, architecture practices get their exposure through publications in magazines, books, and online resources.

@liraluis: Q2. No, but my firm registered where we commit to donate 1% of our services to cause-worthy projects
@HawkinsArch: Q2: Do not advertise. Do use word of mouth within NOP orgs and networks. But no real marketing for it.
@AllisonBroSco: Q2 we advertise that we engage closely with our community, and we talk a lot about those orgs we are involved in.

@liraluis: It’s abt managing expectations of clients–probono or freebie. NPOs can get carried away on wanting things free bec of 501c3 status
@HawkinsArch: Q3 The biggest issue with Pro Bono. Try to manage expectations and provide feedback like all projects. Scope creep is always there

I couldn’t agree more with @liraluis and @HawkinsArch. Part of managing the expectations of any client is to have a signed contract or a document that indicates project description and which services will be provided.

@liraluis: Q4. At the end of the day, some of our probono projects have generated more publicity for us than any paid marketing campaign.
@NextMoon: @DreamwallsGlass Pro bono services benefit firm in bldg expertise & content for outreach, but also relationships in community.
@HMCArchitects: Q4 Benefits: Rewarding experiences to engage communities, collaborating w/ organizations that believe design can make a difference

In addition to the Q&A, there were some interesting and valid points made during the #aiachat, and definitely something architects and designers must not forget and take into consideration. I’ve highlighted some of these tweets below.

@threefourteen: problem with pro-bono. Even though its free it doesnt mean they cant sue you. Still liability involved for#architects
@stevemouzon: pro bono work should be for a cause you’re passionate about, not just to meet a quota, IMO
@liraluis: Q3. Tip on managing expectations: We issue invoices to client indicating $value of services performed probono but with zero balance

@tdatx: Did we ever figure out if our pro bono work is tax deductible?
@liraluis: @tdatx If the organization has a 501c3 status, yes. For anything else, your tax advisor will be the best bet.

@dMASS_net: Is doing extra free work to make a paying clients’ project in order to make it greener also pro-bono (i.e public good)?

If you are an architect or designer and are interested in pro bono work you may be interested in looking into these organization to help facilitate your services with a non-profit organization who can benefit from your efforts and make a better community.

And, if anybody is still unclear what it means to provide pro bono services or what is considered pro bono work, you can always check wikipedia;

@mike_kohn: In case anyone’s interested, here’s the @Wikipedia definition of pro bono:

I also want to thank @KDiop for informing me of this #aiachat – merci beacoup!

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