Giving Back During Tough Economic Times, Part 5

Giving away your services pro bono – pending you’re in a service based profession like law or consulting – can be a particularly unsettling thought. You may fear that giving away your services devalues them, and I can absolutely appreciate you not wanting to do that. I also understand that your time is valuable – after all, you charge for it, and maybe even an arm and a leg – and there just aren’t enough hours in the day to start giving a chunk of them away for free.

I get that. Really I do. I am, after all, in the service industry. But fear not.

How and Why I Do It

As a turnaround manager, I bill by the hour, but you better believe that I give a ton of those hours away for free. Now, I’m not saying that I just don’t bill certain clients out of the goodness of my heart. However, I did recently use my skills to help guide a community center that is near to my heart through some challenging fiscal times (made even worse by the general economic climate), and I perform similar functions for the religious institution with which I affiliate.

These are both organizations that I donate to fiscally anyway, but I realized that I didn’t need them using my dollars to hire someone who does what I do, and not as well at that. I could give them my time pro bono, which is what they needed most anyways.

Pro Bono in the Service Industry

For some professions, doing pro bono work is easier than for others. For instance, it can be particularly easy if you’re a lawyer or accountant. Just ask your priest, minister, rabbi or imam (if you attend a religious institution) if you can be helpful with any paperwork or forms. Issues arise all the time that could use someone with a knowledgable eye to review a document or contract – and much better to do it yourself for free, knowing what it costs and how much time it takes, than for the institution to hire an outsider.

Just consider the many ways your skill set could contribute and where. The help and time mean much more to the institution than to you. And if you’re an accountant worried about helping with taxes during your busy season, encourage the institution to hand its books over in early January so that you can get it out of the way right away. Rather than devalue your services, if word spread that you were helping pro bono, it would probably generate more paying clients than it would create potential ones that want your services for free.

If you’re still concerned about doing pro bono work for the reflection it casts on the value of your time, make official criteria for the kinds of people and businesses you help for free, ensuring that whomever you help could truly never afford you otherwise and that they are really in need by some set of standards you establish.

Giving Back in Retail

And what if you’re not in a service industry, but you do retail?

If you sell goods or own a business, consider donating a portion of the proceeds bought by members of your congregation or community back to the community‚Äôs schools or church/synagogue/mosque. Create some kind of buyer’s card that can be used and monitored, and then every month or year, donate a portion of the proceeds of what the members have bought to their institution. I know that the Kroger near me always donated a portion of our bill to my kids’ school, and I know of a local yogurt shop that has three rival high schools signed up with proceeds going to their football teams.

You can do this with multiple institutions at the same time (there are programs that allow you to create and track spending), and as a bonus it makes for great publicity. Surely the institution will publicize to its members what you’re doing because it will want people to shop with you. I know those high schoolers buy a lot of yogurt.

Are there other good ways you know of or try to give back based on your industry?