Running a small business is hard. Every day can feel like a never-ending race against time just to keep things afloat, let alone help them grow. It might feel like a (big) stretch to make space for pro-bono work, but if you’re able, I highly recommend it! The rewards to the business, and yourself, are plenty.
I founded Synchronous Pictures in 2017 as a documentary-centric production company based in San Diego. We now operate globally with a small in-house team and a network of contractor crew we hire throughout the year, focusing on commercial, tv, and independent, original storytelling.
Over the past couple of years, we’ve contributed tens of thousands of dollars in funds, time, and other resources to causes we care about. Last year, we funded a diverse filmmaker fund, donated weeks of production time and equipment to the Morpho Institute’s Educator Academy in the Amazon, hosted mentorship opportunities for students at a local high school, and donated editing time to a national non-profit. I mention these things not for credit or acknowledgment, but as an example of what’s possible for a small business to contribute while still prioritizing financial health. In my experience, these things can and should exist together.
We have lofty goals for the year ahead, expanding our client base, revenues, and original film slate. But we also plan on continuing to make space for pro-bono work. Here are my top five reasons why donating time to causes you and your company care about should not only be a moral decision – but a strategic one too.
1. Reputation and Credibility
Referrals have been the bulk of our business to date. And those referrals rely heavily on our quality of service, creative chops, and dependability. But in today’s market, that alone might not be enough. Especially with platforms that make it easier and more accessible than ever for clients to hire freelance crew anywhere in the world.
Showing that your business and its people have heart can work wonders. It signals you’re organized (and profitable) enough to create space for this not-for-profit work and shows you view business and the world through a more holistic lens. It can show clients that the care for the stories you’re telling, the people you’re helping, and the connections you’re making runs deep. And that when they’re in the market to hire a creative partner, you’ll go the extra mile to deliver that same level of care and excellence.
2. Networking and Relationship-Building
A small firm like ours relies heavily on its relationships. Opening up a few project slots a year for people and organizations you might not get to work with while billing your full rates can open up new opportunities and create enduring bonds with institutions and people that could pay dividends down the road. For us, some of the most fulfilling and long-lasting client relationships started from a place of small, low, or no-budget work.
3. Gaining New Perspectives and Skills
Pro-bono work has given us a chance to work on solving problems outside of our core slate of services and focus areas, which has certainly led to new perspectives and abilities. Both have improved our regular business ops and strengthened our value in the marketplace. And made us more nuanced and compassionate problem solvers.
4. Connecting to Your Mission And Reigniting the Spark
For us, the daily grind can sometimes make the work feel rather distant from our mission. It requires effort to keep that flame alive and to stay focused on your values roadmap. Taking on a pro-bono project outside your day-to-day can go a long way in reigniting the spark of why you do what you do. And bring a great deal of fulfillment and purpose along the way. This contributes in a meaningful way to company culture and can lead to greater efficiency, creativity, and higher impact for your paying clients and projects.
5. Generosity is a Virtue
Business should be about (responsible) profit. It’s one of the main reasons we do what we do. And there’s great joy, satisfaction, and value in building a profitable, high-yielding business. But business should also be about supporting people and contributing to the communities they operate in. Because without healthy a population, society, and planet, what good is your product or service anyway?
While we’ve been fortunate to arrive at a place where we can make space for pro-bono projects, it’s important to acknowledge this might not make sense for every business at every stage. You must have a healthy ship before committing to helping others. Otherwise, it might become detrimental to you and those you’re offering assistance to.
Nonetheless, as you look ahead at your goals for this next year in business, I challenge you to find opportunities to contribute in ways that make sense to you. Be generous. Be bold. And make kindness and service to others one of your key differentiators on your path to business success. I know I will!
Read the full feature from Canvas Rebel on this topic and more at https://canvasrebel.com/meet-james-parker/.