For some agencies or marketing firms, the ideas may come freely with the sky being the limit on creativity. Then they run into the actual limits of clients and budgets. Mix that creativity with the need to keep a staff engaged, the business development needs regarding technology and the move to make a difference, and you have the model for something special. I came across an iPhone game that AdWeek wrote about. It’s not that the game is going to be a huge business – or is even that original. The excitement is in who it’s for and how it came to be. The game, called Pain Squad, is specifically for the treatment of children going through Cancer treatments. The company that built it is not historically know for App development. The greater upside from the partnership between the company, Cundari, and the hospital, University of Toronto-afilliated Hospital for Sick Children, is priceless. Providing Pro Bono creative and technical resources for real-world philanthropic change extends far beyond the bottom line.
In this case, Cundari built a game App that provides an incentive for kids to track how they are feeling. Currently, there are more systems that require the updates to be done in journals. And, as we’ve all experienced with journals as kids, we didn’t usually do such a great job of remembering to make our entries. When it has to do with a person’s health, the mechanics of entry and remembering to do so are not much easier - but they are that much more important. Pain Squad provides a fun way for kids to keep up with something that isn’t that fun – logging the level of pain they are experiencing.
While agencies have been doing Pro Bono work for as long as there have been agencies, they are usually not thought of as capability development opportunities. Often, the agencies aren’t even asked to do these things because it is not thought to be something they offer. In many other instances, agencies won’t engage in it for fear of putting something sub-standard out there. And probably the biggest reason that companies shy away from Pro Bono work is because they don’t want to take away from their “paying-gig” resources.
I’m not saying that agencies or companies step so far outside of their wheelhouse to the point that they might offer a sub-standard product. And I’m certainly not suggesting that agencies “experiment” on Pro Bono products in ways that are foolhardy or detrimental to either organization. I’m suggesting that more companies develop products and offer either the entire product or sub-sets to charities or organizations as a way to give back. Though the elements of research should never be the main reason for doing this, that research of both the usage of your product and the setting of process could be a huge by-product of the experience. That by-product could lead to much bigger things for your company and the organization you are helping.
It is a sensitive proposition to do Pro Bono work – especially when you hear horror stories about the volunteer work being a larger drain on resources than the paying gigs. That’s why you’ve got to be strategic in what you offer to do and who you offer to do it for. While many elements are the same as other client-vendor relationships, Pro Bono work can easily get mired in that grey area. Make sure expectations are set both externally and internally so that no part of the process leads to disappointment.
If done properly, the possibilities for the endeavor’s partners are endless if done correctly and for the right reasons. Not only are organizations helped, but the people who benefit the most are the ones who need help the most. If it makes sense, jump at the chance to make a difference. And who knows? Perhaps a solid byproduct will be the uplift in your bottom line.