Handling pro bono requests

If askingyou have been in business for more than a couple of weeks, you have probably been asked by someone to donate your time and services for their organization. And especially if your business is still in its early stages, it can be tempting to say yes. “It’s a great way to market myself”, you tell yourself. “They’ll see how great my work is, and then they will pay me.”

Sadly, that often isn’t the case. Human nature being what it is, we tend not to value highly that which we are given at no cost. Donating your skills and expertise just because you were asked to is not the most effective way of managing one of your most valuable assets — your time.

A better approach is to decide at the beginning of the year how many hours of accounting services you would donate as pro bono work. Look at those hours as part of your overall marketing  efforts, and “spend” your pro bono budget on organizations and causes that you care about and that provide you with contacts to potential clients.

What makes this so effective is that, when you are approached by an organization asking you to donate your services, you can evaluate the opportunity and your available time and accept or decline based on more than just the warm and fuzzy feeling you may have about a particular group. Rather than just saying no to a request, you can explain that the hours you have set aside for pro bono work have already been taken. The unspoken message that comes across is “I value my time highly, and I give it away purposefully, not haphazardly.”

(Of course, if you know of a professional association or group that offers a free or low-cost alternative to the services you provide, be sure to refer your requester to that organization. You aren’t losing a client — the requester is looking for free services, not your full-fee, high-value service.)

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