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How can a charity secure pro-bono support?

24 January 2011

All charities have very different experiences of public relations – and working with PR agencies.  And one of the most popular ways for charities seeking agency support is to find a partner prepared to offer their services pro-bono.

But how do charities make the first move – and what should they look for?

  • Find the right partner.

Finding agencies can seem daunting and the best bet will be to keep an eye on sites like PR Week, PR Moment and Third Sector for details of those agencies which are offering formal schemes to apply for (or use a Twitter list like!/AndrewBloch/pr-agencies to follow news direct from agencies).

But if your need is more urgent, use a broker such as Media Trust or take a look at the PRCA and CIPR websites, which both offer lists of PR pros. The PRCA site will also contain information on fee income. While this is not the be-all and end-all, a very small charity will probably have more luck with a smaller agency.

Alternatively, try posting on some of the discussion groups on LinkedIn (like the CIPR one) but be clear if what you want is pro-bono support.

  • Be clear on what you need

Go into this knowing what you will want. Set a clear project and brief for an agency to work from. Whether this is just a short term requirement to write a communications framework for you to follow, train your staff in social media, help establish a crisis communications model, achieve coverage for a key announcement, or run a full-on project, know where the agency will most be able to help.

In the brief, ensure you set the aims and objectives of the work, the wider context in which they sit, a clear target audience to reach and your expected results from the activity.

  • Understand their needs.

While agencies are keen to help charities, they will be looking for something in return. Most often this is a credential they will use in new business meetings or the opportunity to work with you to make a huge media splash and impress new or existing clients. It may be that the agency will use this as an opportunity to let more junior staff ‘take a step up’ and prove themselves. In order to do this, the agency will need to ensure that there are real, tangible results proven as a result of the campaign.

And think about what you could offer the agency in return – are there networking opportunities you could invite them too in exchange for a certain level of work? Or perhaps you’ll be able to talk about their work at a conference, with peers on a steering group or among your own social networks?

  • Ensure you get treated right.

The upside of the agency wanting results to go on and talk about is that they should be keen to treat you like a ‘regular’ client. If the project you have with them is a mid/long term one then you should expect to receive weekly status reports, regular contact telephone calls and you should agree some key performance indicators / delivery dates up front.

  • Appreciate the limits.

Be honest from the outset. Be clear if you do use agency support in other aspects of your communications work, but equally don’t lead the agency on with tales of how the work you do together may result in your charity becoming a paid-for client. If you do have budget available for expenses (venue hire, production costs, press cuttings, research, etc) be explicit and don’t be ashamed at how much (or little!) that may be.

Keep it professional, keep it honest and hopefully both parties will benefit – and by combining all this, more charities and more agencies will find each other and benefit from pro-bono relationships.

Simon Francis

managing partner, Band & Brown

Experienced campaigner and communications consultant with a passion for using marketing to make the world a better place.