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A Pro Bono Primer

By Ellen Hunt, AIA

Pro-bono or professional volunteer work for non-profit businesses can be rewarding personally and professionally, improve the quality of life in your community and provide opportunities that may be outside the regular business of your firm.

When considering whether to provide pro-bono services there are some elements to the work that need to be considered, primarily will the experience be beneficial to you and to the client. Be as curious and diligent with pro-bono clients as you are with your paying clients. Follow the same kinds of procedures from contracts and scope of work details to remuneration. Many clients will list your firm as a donor, so be fair in the value of the work you are contributing.

For the client, having an architect step up and provide them with services sometimes is the difference between the project going forward or the non-profit not being able to provide the services they want to their clientele. Non-profits are focused on providing services to their clients, whether they are a dance studio or a social service agency. Dealing with buildings and space doesn’t play to their core talents, but it does to ours. We can let them get back to work and we can help them with a task that can seem overwhelming. We can show them how to break the work up into phases, help guide them in how much each phase will cost and determine what kinds of donations they might expect. In addition, we can assemble a design team where all the professionals are able to contribute something in-kind to the project. As the architect, we can limit our participation in the project to general consulting or take the project all the way through construction.

For the architect, this work can be highly rewarding. If you want to be active in your community, you can contribute your skills where they are needed most. It is rewarding to meet clients that may be outside your general field of practice and learn about the work that they do. For many people “giving back” is a continual process and this work can create the bridge between civic involvement and professional work, and along the way make the neighborhoods we live in better through our active involvement.

So, how do you start? There are many ways to become active. Volunteering to be on a building committee with your church, school or neighborhood association is a first step. Volunteer for an AIA committee and answer the call when a non-profit requests volunteers in physical planning. Pay attention to the non-profits you already interact with…from schools to food pantries. Seek out this work and you will be rewarded.

About the Author: Ellen Hunt, AIA, is a principal with Ellen Pulner Hunt Architect, Inc. in Austin, Texas.  She has been the chair of the AIA Austin Small Firms Roundtable for the past two years.


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