In the media world of design and branding, not-for-profit organisations are rarely discussed with mainstream marketing interest. Our discussion about brands seems more comfortable with profit-generating corporates and their product launches, the latest financials supporting design effectiveness and the recent brand campaign that has sparked controversy. In short, we don’t hear a lot about the wealth of work created by brand and design agencies for their pro bono clients.
Pro Bono Australia says there are 600,000 not-for-profit organisations and charities operating nationally across Australian communities. Not-for-profilts span multiple sectors—including charities that help women and children, the aged and seniors, the homeless and the disabled, as well as those supporting animal welfare, arts and culture, and hospitals—there are charities representing every facet of society’s needs, and in each category there are likely to be creative agencies contributing in substantial ways to this sector’s under-resourced brand marketing activity.
Charities are not immune to the same business challenges that their larger corporate cousins tackle, but while corporations chase customers and profits, there is a meaningful and complex safety net of philanthropists providing our communities with fundamental support and survival services, each fighting for piece of the federal funding pie. Not-for-profit organisations are operating on shoestring budgets as it is. For marketing service companies to be able to offer their expertise for the greater good while giving these organisations a chance to have a voice and a profile amongst the din of marketing chatter, provides a sense of purpose and fulfillment that for most, easily outweighs the investment.
There’s a perceived inequitable status about how clients who generate invoices and those that don’t are managed both by account services and creatively. In my view this is a myth. Like any other client, we help our pro bono clients to deliver on their business objectives, and it’s a pleasure for us as a business, and for our designers, to be able to contribute to the success of an organisation whose mission it is to help others in real need. That’s the way it should be.
To cite one example, Meals on Wheels boasts 78,700 volunteers delivering 14.8 million meals annually to about 53,000 recipients in urban and rural Australia. But the brand was represented throughout Australia by 750 different organisations, each with its own identity and none of them reflecting the brand’s core raison d’etre. Our work aimed to communicate to the federal government the organisation’s national reach by visually integrating its core values in a new identity.
The above pro bono project and others like it demonstrate the depth of work to which a brand and design agency is prepared to commit and contests any skepticism about the quality of the work delivered for pro bono clients.
However, it’s interesting to note that in some markets, clients have had concerns that by looking too professional they will send the message that they don’t need government financial assistance, leading them to approve sub-standard work. Personally, I can’t support this strategy on any level, especially when there is nothing to gain by either party adopting this position.
Pro bono work should receive the same intensity of creative expression and be driven by the same methodologies and processes as those enjoyed by any other client. Working on a client knowing that you are helping them in their mission to help others is enormously fullfilling, and most designers do not lose sight of this. In fact, some would say that working with a pro bono client is a designer’s dream.
My concluding view is that the marketing industry is sufficiently rewarded for its work and that having the opportunity to give back to the community and the charities that really make a difference to peoples’ lives is one way we can give a very big and honest thank you.