As public relations consultancies place increasing emphasis on revenue growth and cost management, should pro-bono partnerships with non-profit organizations take a back seat to billable client work? The answer should invariably be a loud and clear ‘no’.

In its more than four decades of existence in Belgium, H+K Brussels has, on several occasions, taken the time to step back from its day-to-day business and assess how it could bring expertise and added value to causes and organizations it supports. In the past 10 years, this includes the International Court of Justice for Sierra Leone, the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, the EU offices of the Red Cross, and the Belgian non-profit Constellations.
Even if financial returns of projects developed with these organizations are virtually non-existant (pro bono work or using largely reduced rates), the win-win results they bring to both the organization and H+K can deliver significant mutual benefit.
The golden rule for H+K’s work guiding our work with these organisations is precisely to treat them exactly like fee-paying clients, with the same professionalism, focus on quality and drive to succeed. Making the most of its experience, expertise and broad network of contacts, H+K allowed its partners to achieve results and success they would have never been able to ensure on their own.
For instance, based on H+K’s strategic counseling, the Special Court for Sierra Leone, threatened with closure due to a lack of funds, was able to secure a $3.5 million donation directly from the European Commission. The European Commission also used this commitment to encourage EU Member States to pledge additional funds. In the years ahead of the final judgment in the trial for former Liberian President Charles Taylor in 2012, around $20 million for core funding was pledged by EU Member States, despite the global economic downturn.
More globally, H+K’s actions were able to change many minds among the non-profit organizations it worked with. Most strikingly, it showed that communications consultancy work can apply and bring much added value to any sector, including those often critical and reluctant towards external and private advice.
Simultaneously, H+K employees also gain from this work, through the need to view assignments through a very different lens: humility. When working for a charity organization, consultants are forced to take a step back and think outside of their usual corporate and business box. It obliges communications experts to put themselves in shoes they have rarely been in. And this brings them to be something they must be at all times: the voice, eyes and ears of the public opinion.
While communications consultancies’ advice to non-profit organizations helps them achieve results they would never have achieved through lack of resources and limited access to expertise, it brings as much to companies such as H+K: a priceless, refreshing and updated view on the world. This can then be brought back to the day-to-day business activities in order to improve what we do for our clients.


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Joseph Lemaire

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