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Volunteer pro bono consulting

Pro Bono Work Can Expand Skills, Experience

Amber McKenna

Volunteer pro bono consulting

One professional AMA chapter built a pro bono program to provide marketing services for its local nonprofit community

We all have that one daunting project that seems too time-consuming, too complicated and too cost-prohibitive, the project you wish you could hand off to someone else. With this in mind, the Portland, Oregon, chapter of the AMA (AMA PDX) created AMA PDX Agency, a program that aims to take those projects off the shoulders of nonprofits’ staff and place them in the hands of skilled marketing professionals.

A Partnership with Portland

In 2007, AMA PDX started a program called Community Outreach to pair groups of volunteers with nonprofits to provide pro bono marketing work. Last year, the program was rebranded as AMA PDX Agency to better represent the professional services provided by this initiative.

Teams of volunteers from AMA PDX work with local nonprofits to execute a six-month-long marketing project. Over the past 12 years, the program has completed a variety of marketing work for dozens of nonprofits by using the skills of more than 100 different volunteers. The agency is run by a pair of AMA PDX volunteer board members who oversee the entire process each year.

Giving Back with Expertise

Past AMA PDX chapter leaders saw a chance to assist other nonprofit organizations the best they knew how: with marketing. The agency partners with Portland-area 501(c)(3) nonprofits and accepts applications from August to November each year. The final selections are made by a committee of AMA PDX board members.

Ideal partner organizations:

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  • Have been established for several years.
  • Have at least one paid staff member.
  • Can dedicate 10 to 15 hours per month from January to June to work with volunteer teams.
  • Can identify a project with measurable results.

AMA PDX Agency had their largest pool of applicants ever this project period, with 19 different nonprofit organizations and 30 volunteers applying to be part of the program. The six nonprofits we selected for 2019 include an organization that helps foster families obtain supplies and assistance and an organization that provides affordable resources for creating independently published media and artwork. Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon, which advocates for systemic change and better access to food, is one of the nonprofits selected for 2019.

“As nonprofits, it’s hard to find the time to be innovative, and this program gives us the chance to collaborate and improve our marketing,” says Lizzie Martinez, director of development for Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon. “It really adds to our capacity.”

The project for Partners is centered on creating an outreach strategy to bring brand awareness to a fundraising event that wasn’t meeting attendance and visibility goals. Martinez says that for her organization and other nonprofits, it can be difficult to find the time to be innovative.

“From the very first meeting, our (AMA PDX) Agency marketing team was generating ideas we hadn’t even thought of,” Martinez said. “It’s not often we’re able to get that level of marketing expertise.”

An Opportunity to Gain Skills, Experience

Volunteers assigned to project teams vary greatly in career experience and industry. The projects call for an array of skill sets and bring together a unique mix of marketing and marketing-adjacent professionals.

The requirements for volunteers are:

  • Willingness to commit five to 10 hours a month to the project for a six-month period.
  • Ability to attend in-person meetings in Portland at least once a month.
  • Experience or a strong interest in marketing.

Current AMA PDX Agency co-director Ashlan Glazier-Anderson started out as a program volunteer in 2016.

“I first decided to get involved because my work responsibilities were centered on e-commerce,” she says. “The program was a great opportunity to learn and use skills in digital marketing that related more directly with what I wanted to focus on in my career.”

Soon after her agency project was complete, Glazier-Anderson was able to use these freshly-honed skills to get a new position at a digital marketing agency.

A typical project team consists of the following roles:

  • Graphic designer
  • Project manager
  • Copywriter
  • Marketing strategist
  • Digital marketing specialist

AMA PDX Agency gives volunteers the opportunity to grow their portfolio and give back to the community. In return, Portland’s nonprofits have a chance to leverage local marketing talent, develop richer volunteer and donor bases and evolve their marketing strategies.

“Our volunteers get exposure to a new group of people and can help set them up for success,” Glazier-Anderson says. “We’re able to implement marketing that can benefit an organization for years to come.”

Celebrating Community

As the program has evolved, AMA PDX Agency is able to do more pro bono marketing work in Portland.

Glazier-Anderson and fellow agency co-director Joe Dunn have plans to expand the program capacity to be able to sustain shorter-term projects in conjunction with the standard six-month timeline.

 “The problems that the volunteers are working with nonprofits to solve are real-life challenges,” Martinez says. “It’s gratifying to see professionals giving back.”


Advice from AMA PDX for Starting a Pro Bono Agency

Start small: Our program has become what it is today over many years. Start out small by working with one or two nonprofits.

Identify established nonprofits that have well-defined marketing challenges: Your volunteers need clear goals and objectives.

Give your volunteers a chance to prove their worth: Take the time to get to know prospective volunteers and find out what they want to gain from the process. Empower them to succeed.

Make time to check in: Our agency directors have regular check-ins with each volunteer. The majority of our current board members and volunteers started in this program.

Construct a diverse team: The best project teams are made up of people with a variety of career and life experiences.

Project timelines are key: For the sake of all involved, stick to the timeline you set at the start of your project.

Don’t be afraid to be picky: Setting criteria for your nonprofits and volunteers makes it possible for you to enable the best possible outcomes.

Make outreach part of your core values: For the first few years, our pro bono program felt separate from the rest of our chapter initiatives. We saw a big difference once we tried to tie it in with our chapter goals.

Celebrate success: Whether it’s one project or six, you’re giving volunteers experience and nonprofits valuable marketing work; be proud of your effort.

Amber McKenna is president of AMA PDX and brand marketing manager at Nutraceutical.