What is Pro Bono?

Pro bono comes from the Latin phrase “pro bono publico” which means for the public good. In the built environment context it generally means the provision of services on a free or significantly reduced fee basis without expectation of further work.

Pro bono service can take many forms; it is any contribution of professional services’ knowledge, skills, judgement, and/or creativity that service the public good.

For companies, pro bono service is an increasingly critical part of their community impact work. It is often best understood in the context of the full spectrum of community investment strategies that companies deploy.

Pro Bono

As Harvard’s Rosabeth Moss Kanter said, pro bono services enables companies to go beyond giving money and make a real change. While it typically doesn’t engage the same volume as “hands on volunteering”, the impact is substantially greater.

The Difference between Pro Bono and Volunteering

As an individual it can be difficult to understand how your volunteer work is different to your pro bono work.

A volunteer for a community organisation, not-for profit or charity willingly performs services without being paid. Pro Bono is a little different to this. Pro bono work is professional work undertaken without payment (or at a reduced fee) for the public good.

The key difference is that Volunteering (including skilled volunteering) does not require professional indemnity insurance. That is, an individual’s volunteer work does not require a company to stand behind it. On the other hand, pro bono work entails the support of a business. This includes a business’s reputation, name and employees getting behind the work being done, ultimately it is the business who owns the risk.

Community organisations eligibility

COLAB focuses on not for profit organisation (as defined by the Australian Tax Office) as appropriate pro bono clients. These organisation have been relieved of their tax burden in recognition of the societal benefits they provide.

Corporate Social Responsibility

Architect, engineering and construction companies are increasingly embracing the concept of corporate social responsibility and many have developed community assistance programs to “give back” and engage with the broader community. This note provides guidance to firms to help them place their pro bono work in context when developing such programs.

In a community assistance program, pro bono built environment services may sit alongside community partnerships, charitable donations, volunteering, workplace giving programs and community service work. Even foundations have been developed within some companies to better manage the process of making charitable donations.

These elements should work together in a complementary way. The support to a particular community group can be enhanced, for example, by combining pro bono services with charitable donations and volunteer community service work. The various ways that a company can assist a particular organisation can help to strengthen the relationship between them. Through workplace giving and community service work, all of the staff of a firm can participate in the relationship with the organisation. And community service work may provide employees with the attractive opportunity to do something outside their usual area of practice.

An issue arises however, when companies and/or employees opt to spend their limited time doing community service work rather than providing pro bono legal assistance. The issue is that there is enormous unmet need for pro bono services for disadvantaged and marginalised organisations. And only architects, engineers and construction expertise can meet it.
With this in mind, companies are urged to maintain their commitment to providing pro bono services when formulating, developing and implementing community assistance programs, and to maintain the importance of their pro bono work within the program. Engineers and architects are the only people who can provide architect and engineering services – and have a professional responsibility to do so to those in need.

So when a company develops a corporate social responsibility or community assistance program, it is vital that pro bono legal services be at the heart of the program.

Reporting & Sustainability

A number of organisation are required by their boards for the share holders to report on the sustainability of their organisation.

  • Dow Jones Sustainability Index Pro Bono work addresses majority of the Criteria in the Social Dimension (human-capital development, talent attraction and retention, and corporate citizenship / philanthropy).
  • London Benchmarking Group (LBG) LBG is the global standard for measuring Corporate Community Investment.
  • Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) – The GRI is a sustainability reporting initiative that defines a sustainability report as a report published organisation about the economic, environmental and social impacts caused by its everyday activities.