Pro Bono OR provides volunteers the opportunity to practice their skills in a wider arena. The scheme allows you to improve your knowledge of the third sector whilst cultivating your own skills.

The role of the volunteer

The role of the volunteer is to help charitable organisations improve their efficiency. You can work as an individually or as part of a team to complete a project. Each project is scoped by the pro bono steering group committee, you must then work with the organisation to define what success looks like.   

  • Work with potential users to specify projects
  • Undertake projects, either individually or in teams
  • Write up and/or present their work wherever appropriate
  • Mentor junior volunteers who need help

Requirements to become a volunteer

You must be at least one of the following:

  • Member of The OR Society
  • Studying in HE and with tutor endorsement for the project
  • Min 1st degree in OR-related subject 
  • Practitioner with a track record 
  • Accredited by The OR Society
  • Part of the OR Community

The Process

  1. Sign up to our mailing list via the website or email Amy Hughes amy.hughes [at] theorsociety.com 
  2. Send in an application and your CV for a project you have seen advertised and would like to work on
  3. Get selected by the Organisation
  4. Undertake the project
  5. Completed a case study slide  and project survey

Project management

After an initial meeting, the volunteer should draw up a project proposal, using the specimen project proposal form, adapted as necessary; and agree this with the client. The clearer and more explicit the obligations of everyone involved are the better. So try to make sure that the agreement covers the essentials. It should include:

  • what the organisation are expected to do and what the volunteer and any other parties are 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.

Conflict of Interest

A conflict of interest arises where the commitments of the volunteer, are likely to be compromised, or may appear to be compromised, by that person's personal gain, or gain to immediate family (or a person with whom the person has a close personal relationship) whether financial or otherwise. If you think you may have a conflict of interest please speak to the Pro Bono OR project manager immediately.

Volunteers must not take on a project with the intention of trying to gain paid work.  Pro Bono OR is free support arranged on behalf of The OR Society and must not result in any financial gain to the volunteer.  That said, there is no bar on the volunteer subsequently undertaking paid work for the organisation if this is agreed to be suitable to all concerned.  If the organisation proposes this within 12 months of the completion of the volunteers Pro Bono engagement, this must be declared to the Pro Bono OR Project Manager.

Quotes from previous Pro Bono volunteers

Paul Randall:

"It's win-win. Both you and a good cause benefit"


Sue Merchant:

"It’s a chance to make a difference, practice getting to the heart of a problem quickly, meet some very dedicated people and use techniques which you might not in your every day job"


Sam MacKay:

"Being a volunteer was a great way to make a real difference for an organisation with people that were clearly passionate about what they do. At the same time I’ve added some interesting people to my network and expanded the breadth of projects I’ve undertaken on my CV"


Ian Seath:

"Working as a pro bono volunteer is a great way to contribute some professional expertise to some truly worthwhile causes. The Third Sector is full of people who feel passionately about their mission, so working with them is invariably a positive learning experience"


Jane Parkin:

"I’ve really enjoyed working with third sector organisations and found the staff extremely positive about the contribution we make"


Huw Evans:

"Working on pro bono assignments has provided opportunities to work with a variety of organisations, some of who have never worked with a consultant because they felt it wasn’t an option open to them because of expense.  The variety of organisations has provided wider experience of the Third Sector and enabled me to develop approaches that were capacity building for the organisations (opening up their minds to new ideas, approaches, insights and possibilities) as well as enriching my experience with opportunities to enhance my CV.

"The pro bono approach can be attractive to retired OR practitioners in that it allows you to pick and choose assignments and continue to apply your experience and skills usefully in society.  I’d recommend pro bono opportunities as a way of developing practice, raising the profile of OR, enhancing your CV, having fun meeting people in different organisations working with limited resources to do good things"

Some practical pointers for success

The table below outlines success factors that you need to get right in order for a project to be successful and also key issues for Pro Bono volunteers related to those factors.

Table 1: Success factors and pro bono issues (Ruth Kaufman Sept 2014)

Success factors

Issues for pro bono

Appearing to be professional and confident


Good listening to client (including probing for underlying issues)


Consultant has done their prior research

This should include sector understanding

Client engagement


Good communication and trust

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

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 consultant emotional involvement

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 organisations 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

Understanding and clarifying risks


Identifying key stakeholders

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

Suitable client expectations, well-managed

Bear in mind possible relative inexperience

Being able to think on your feet


Not scaring client off

Bear in mind possible relative inexperience

Other issues to consider:

  • The project almost always takes longer than you would expect:
  • Clients’ time is hard to get: board level people are generally part-time volunteers committed to only a few hours a month, and people in operational roles (including CEO) are generally overworked
  • Overrun is frequently a cost-free risk to the client
  • The ‘and another thing’ syndrome
  • Clients can be relatively naïve, especially ‘SME’-equivalent clients, because OR is so unusual in the sector
  • There is usually something else underlying the presented problem
  • The stakeholder landscape is generally complex
  • Small charities are almost always very vulnerable to adverse environmental change, and the consultant needs to be sensitive to this.


Never worked with a charity before? Things you should know!

  1. There are over 390,000 civil society organisations within the UK, over 165,000 of these are voluntary organisations. The voluntary sector makes a £12.3 billion contribution the UK economy.

  2. There is a very wide variety of charities: those with next to no income and those with billion pound turnover; local, national or global charities; entirely professional or entirely volunteer-based.

  3. It is not possible to generalise about charities just as it is not possible to generalise about public sector or private sector organisations. In many cases, there is no significant difference between sectors in the way they work, the legal framework, or the commitment to operating efficiently and effectively. However, there are some specific features of charities.

All charities

  1. Charities must comply with charity law. In particular, they must be for the public benefit, must have entirely charitable aims, and must have a trustee body. The trustees are entirely accountable for the charity's proper operation, and delivery of its charitable objects. Except in exceptional circumstances, the trustee role is unremunerated. Trustee bodies vary considerably in how active they are in practice, and what role they take relative to any paid staff or operational volunteers; but they all have the same underlying legal responsibility for the running of the charity.

  2. Charities with more than £5,000 income must be registered with the Charity Commission, which is the relevant regulator. The Charity Commission website publishes information about every registered charity, and also has extensive guidance about good practice, and regulatory and statutory requirements.

  3. Registered charities must have a governing document, which sets out, amongst other things, the charitable objects – the purpose(s) for which the charity exists.

  4. Charities may have a variety of income sources, including: receipts from sale of goods or services; income from contracts (in particular, these days, from local authorities); grants either from statutory sources, the Lottery, or from grant-making charitable trusts and foundations; donations from companies or individuals, including legacies; and income from events. Many of these represent one-off or short-term funding. As a result it is more common in the charity sector – especially amongst smaller charities - to have considerable uncertainty about future levels of funding, and erratic income flow.   Fundraising has become a profession in its own right, in order to maximise income from grants, donations and events.

  5. Charities are required to account separately for 'unrestricted' and 'restricted' funding. Funding is 'restricted' if the donor or grant maker has given the money to be used for a specific purpose only; it cannot normally be used for any other purpose. (Contract funding is not usually restricted – as long as the services specified in the contract are delivered, the funding can be used as the charity sees fit.)

  6. For this and other reasons, charity accounting differs in some respects from public or private sector accounting: there is a separate Charities Statement of Recommended Practice.

Sign up

To sign up to our mailing list to receive news about upcoming projects please complete this short volunteer details form. For further information about the scheme please contact Amy Hughes (Pro Bono manager) using the contact form.

Signing up as a volunteer does not require any commitment; volunteers are added to the volunteers’ database and then receive emails as and when projects become available. New projects are advertised every month and volunteer applications must be received by a specific date (two weeks after the project is advertised) but the timings of the projects are flexible and to be agreed between the volunteer and the organisation.

Quality Assurance tools and guidance
Measuring impact recommended resources  

Pro Bono Volunteer Form

To sign up to our mailing list to receive news about upcoming projects please complete this form

Number of days per week/month and for how long

Please note: reasonable travel expenses will be paid

Please select the OR techniques that you are familiar with and the level of experience

The volunteer(s) agree not to conduct themselves in such a way that promotes financial gain as a result of this project.
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