The pros of pro bono

I really liked the article Next Avenue’s Rich Eisenberg recently wrote about finding purpose and meaning from your work. (Purpose is very outcome oriented and public; meaning is more process oriented, and can be very private.)

Apparently, these are very Boomer kinds of concepts, and they’re having a big impact in organizations, where a new generation of leaders understands how important they are to employees. When workers, from entry-level to C-level, find what they do to be important, relevant and satisfying, they’re happier, more productive and more engaged at work—and probably outside of work, too.

Eisenberg interviewed Aaron Hurst, who wrote The Purpose Economy, a book I highly recommend. But it was a question he asked Hurst that really jumped out at me: What’s the distinction between volunteering and working pro bono?

Pro bono work involves using your professional skills for a specific project or desired result without billing for it. Examples would be legal work, graphic design, free medical screenings, and handling a tax return for a nonprofit. Volunteering is usually about doing a specific job that may not involve professional expertise and does not involve financial remuneration. Examples would be painting over graffiti, restocking a food pantry’s shelves with donated cans, acting as docent at a museum, and phoning for contributions for a political campaign or charity fundraiser.

I think both pro bono work and volunteering are important, and Hurst does too, but he seems especially enthusiastic about pro bono work.

I agree. It’s rewarding to have an impact on a person or an organization, and it’s especially gratifying to take decades of experience and put them to good use instead of letting them fade away. Skills and knowledge are commodities with a long shelf life.

That’s an important thing for retirees or career-changers to keep in mind. Stopping or changing your career doesn’t mean your credentials stop having value. And not getting paid for a skill or an informed opinion doesn’t make them any less useful or important.

In any case, it doesn’t have to be either/or decision. Sometimes you’ll want to volunteer to do whatever task the organization needs. Other times you’ll want to take the lead on a project or outcome that only you can define and accomplish based on your professional expertise. Either way, you can make a difference that has both purpose and meaning.

Read Rich Eisenberg’s article here:

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