To Pro Bono or not Pro Bono? Your questions answered

ByMichael Ambjorn

To Pro Bono or not Pro Bono? Your questions answered

A few people have enquired via the twittersphere whether IABC might not value business communication after all. The reason? We put out a couple of Pro Bono RFPs (requests for proposals).

First of all the short answer to Alison is: we most definitively respect talent. 

Still, why would a serious global organisation do something like this?

Because we’re trying to do something we wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. The operative part in other words is the Pro Bono bit in the RFP.

We connect communicators with a global and local network, career opportunities, resources and knowledge. We’re a practitioner-led non-profit and like all non-profits we rely on the generous support from our community. We regularly draw on 1000+ leaders around the world. Proud practitioners who give their time and talent to advance the profession. 

From time to time this includes project-based pro bono activities: just like lawyers, accountants and other professionals, communicators also sometimes take on pro bono briefs for organisations and causes they support. A recent practical example is the work on our rebrand – a collaboration of and by global practitioners, generously supported by Arcas Advertising.

We welcome the debate – and we’ll do our bit to get it underway at this year’s World Conference. I hope you will join our Foundation event where an expert panel will celebrate the spirit of giving – and also discuss the challenges.

Let’s #createconnection like never before.

Michael Ambjorn

P.S. If you want to learn more about the rebrand – and the collaboration with Arcas – come this session:


About the author

Michael Ambjorn administrator

Michael is a past chair of the International Association of Business Communicators. He is also founder of Align Your Org where – with a participation-centric approach – he and his colleagues enable effective strategic planning, communication – and clarity of execution. He has held leadership roles at IBM, Motorola and the 260–year–old Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. A consummate connector, speaker, facilitator - and mentor - he is also active in a number of further networks. You can follow him @michaelambjorn

4 Comments so far

Pamela VozzaPosted on3:45 pm - Apr 27, 2016

Michael, while this is an excellent and important topic, I feel your response barely addresses the question. Many practitioners have been faced with the question of doing pro bono versus not doing so. It has financial, professional and, often times, emotional ramifications. Your response addresses none of this and, in its brevity, almost seems curt. Having had the opportunity to hear you speak about the future of communications at this year’s Southern U.S. Regional IABC Conference, I’m confident you can do better.

    Michael AmbjornPosted on10:02 am - Apr 28, 2016

    Dear Pamela – you make some great points – well beyond what I was hoping to cover with a concise answer crafted at an airport waiting to board a plane. This is a topic well worth exploring further – and we will do so at the World Conference Foundation Panel as mentioned. It is a topic that has implications for all professions. You may also want to see my brief response to Alison Kenney below.

    Thanks for taking the time to contribute. It is much appreciated.


Alison KenneyPosted on8:26 pm - Apr 27, 2016

The definition of pro bono is literally “for the good” and, as you mention, it has traditionally referred to legal services provided for free (or at a substantially reduced rate) to the poor or to nonprofit organizations that serve the community’s disadvantaged.

Yet in your RFP, you say: “As the foremost event on IABC’s calendar, it (the World Conference) provides an important revenue-generating opportunity for the organization.”

There’s the rub and the reason why you’re seeing pushback from marketers and PR pros. Working for free on promoting your conference can’t be called pro bono work in the traditional sense.

Using a loose interpretation and then defending it by highlighting the “connections” such a charitably-minded individual, or team of individuals (who could conceivably be dues-paying IABC members), may reap from your project does seem disrespectful to the industry professionalism that your organization should stand for.

    Michael AmbjornPosted on10:27 am - Apr 28, 2016

    Dear Alison,

    Thanks for adding some great questions. Pro Bono is indeed ‘for the good’ – and the term is these days used by a range of professions to denote work to advance a case or a cause.

    In my 20+ years with a foot in the voluntary sector I’ve seen this debate come and go more than once. It is an important and necessary debate.

    As a non-profit we are – with the help of 1,000+ leaders around the world who give their time freely – trying to advance the field of professional communications.

    The conference in question is a revenue-generating opportunity. As a non-profit all proceeds are reinvested in our work. The same happens every week all over the world. Our local chapters draw on the goodwill of a range of professional communicators to make things happen. Proud, hardworking people looking to make an impact in their community.

    So why this brief? We wanted to try something new – explore a different way of covering the conference – helping the good practice reach further corners of the world.

    As it is beyond our normal calls for people to step up and give their time we wanted to make sure we did a professional brief.

    Thanks again for taking the time to comment – and thanks for all you do for the profession.


Leave a Reply