Managing a Pro Bono Project

After an initial meeting, the volunteer should draw up a project proposal, using and adapting the specimen project proposal form; and agree this with the client. The obligations of everyone involved should be made clear and explicit, so try to ensure that the agreement covers the essentials. It should include:

  • what the organisation, the volunteer and any other parties are each expected to do
  • within what time periods
  • a description of the problem and the boundaries or limits of the volunteer’s involvement
  • the goals or aims of the intervention
  • how the problem will be tackled, the kind of data that will be needed, the data collection methods that will be used
  • how progress will be reviewed and how the intervention can be evaluated
  • how the project will be quality assured (for projects where any analysis/report/recommendations are made).
  • the nature of the final report or other outcome
  • follow-up activities that may be required
  • how and when feedback will be given to the volunteer after the intervention

Quality Assurance

Pro Bono OR recommends using the quality assurance tools and guidance provided on GOV.UK when quality assessing any work. 

Post-project feedback and publicity

In order to publicise the work carried out on behalf of The OR Society and help to fulfil The OR Society’s charitable aims, both the organisation and volunteer should complete feedback forms at the end of the project and return these to the Pro Bono OR project manager at The OR Society.

Some practical pointers for success

The table below outlines success factors that any consultant needs in order for a project to be successful. It also, in the right hand column, highlights key issues for Pro Bono volunteers. These issues are characteristic of many (not all) Pro Bono projects, and form part of the interest and challenge of third sector work. Please do not hesitate to contact the Pro Bono Coordinator if these or other issues are causing difficulty.

Table: Success factors and pro bono issues (Ruth Kaufman Sept 2014)

Success Factors Issues for Pro Bono

Behave professionally and ethically

Only take on projects for which you are technically qualified. Ask for help from our experienced mentors if you need technical advice

Understanding and clarifying risks to successful project completion

Note client engagement issues below; also be absolutely clear about your own availability and any risks of you being unable to complete

Being able to think on your feet

Don’t try to bluff where you have no knowledge; admit you will need to ask for advice from colleagues

Careful listening to client (including probing for underlying issues)


Client engagement

Some charities experience frequent personnel changes, which may affect project continuity. Try to make sure that you always have contact with someone who understands what you are doing and wants your output. Even with continuity, other demands on the client may cause them to de-prioritise the project. Be sensitive to/respect their changing priorities, but get in touch with the Pro Bono Coordinator if it is becoming problematic

Consultant has done their prior research

This should include sector understanding. Do review all the materials in ‘resources for volunteers’ to see what might be relevant to you

Good communication and trust

Need to use appropriate language (see ‘prior research’)

Not scaring client off

Bear in mind possible relative inexperience

Identifying key stakeholders

Bear in mind particular structure of sector, including respective roles of volunteers, trustees and paid staff

Suitable client expectations, well-managed

Many charities, especially small ones, have little or no experience of consultancy or analysis; bear this in mind and be willing to be flexible and adaptable

Clients (and the right people at the client) have time to give information

Understand clients’ time constraints (especially an issue for trustees, or for small delivery-focused charities)

At some point before it is too late, there is an agreed product/ToR/timing/scope/report/plan

a) Greater flexibility may be necessary because of clients’ relative inexperience

b) Danger of project drift as a result of client inexperience and your own emotional involvement and desire to 'do good'

c) Commitment to timings should be as rigorous as paid external consultant; don’t think, or allow client to think, that because it is unpaid, standards can be lowered mid-project

Having empathy (i) with organisation's objectives, (ii) with organisation’s way of working

a) Need client to believe in your empathy

b) but mustn’t allow it to override your professional judgement and

c) must be willing to challenge

Technically competent consultant (includes ability to put self in client’s shoes)

a) Emotional or social drive to do something for the charity may override professional judgement on own competence

b) Need to be willing to pull out if necessary, but also need to consider what would be most helpful for the charity, and adapt practice to meet their needs

c) Need to be willing to agree different product if necessary