I was first introduced to the Give Half model two years ago, at the very onset of my own start-up. Looking for inspiration, I had set up shop at a collaborative co-working space for social entrepreneurs in downtown Los Angeles, and met Matt and the verynice team, which was about a fourth of the size they are now, my first day there. At the time, I didn’t know how instrumental Matt and his then atypical business model would become in my career trajectory.
filmanthropos was born out of a desire to combine my passion for storytelling with creating impact. Over the course of the past two years, we’ve developed into a full-service creative agency that specializes in storytelling and engagement campaigns, with a mission to scale impact through creative uses of new media. As of 2014, we have donated 650+ hours and $80,000+ worth of pro-bono services nationwide and boast a portfolio of projects for clients including UNICEF, Burton Snowboard’s The Chill Foundation, The Los Angeles Music Center, Los Angeles River Revitalization Corporation, The Boys & Girls Club, Green Dot Public Schools, The Goldhirsh Foundation & LA2050, and The Children’s Bureau of Southern California.
Being in the business of storytelling, I’ve found that an authentic story is the most engaging and inspiring. So my aim is to inspire you to create your own blueprint and path towards growth and development as an entrepreneur based on the #givehalf stepping-stones that have helped me in my career.
Volunteering for Skills Development
I came from a business background— I studied business administration in undergrad at USC and then went on to IE Business School in Madrid to get my MBA. Storytelling and video production emerged out of a self-taught hobby, which I later decided to turn into a full-time career. I wanted to start a purposeful organization and felt the best way to create impact with storytelling was to help the social sector make their stories heard. Because I didn’t have any training in the art of storytelling for the non-profit world, Matt encouraged me to start volunteering and offering pro bono creative services to non-profits. And with his full endorsement and confidence, our company started out as a 100% pro bono social enterprise.
This leads me to my first stepping-stone: the importance of volunteering. I gained my storytelling skills through volunteering and through taking on pro bono projects. The best way to gain experienced-based knowledge is to have an “I’ll gain experience by doing” mentality and a willingness to pitch in on projects wherever needed. The most effective learning comes from actually living it and figuring it out.
By taking advantage of volunteering on special projects or events that were versatile and multi-disciplinary, I gained a well-rounded experience and almost immediately began scaling my network, which helped open more doors for me.
If you’re having trouble getting started, try reaching out to a nonprofit that has a mission closely aligned with your values or to any one of the wealth of give half companies that have become a part of the pro bono movement. Our volunteers are our greatest assets.
Achieving Sustainability through #GiveHalf Adaptation
Volunteering allowed me to quickly establish relationships and put me in touch with people that I networked with and learned from. It’s enabled me to make genuine connections with people where there is a real give-and-take relationship. On top of this, leveraging creative volunteers to staff pro bono projects allowed me to quickly scale filmanthropos and build a portfolio while keeping overhead costs at a minimum.
However, 100% pro bono wasn’t going to cut it from a sustainability standpoint, and I began realizing there are inherent costs in video production that can’t be offered pro bono, for instance, production insurance. And as our company grew, and as I started working with more creatives that came from a cinema background, my standard for quality work dramatically increased. I began learning things like what type of composition and unseen factors go into making a vibrant, visually appealing, quality shot.
Recognizing that bypassing certain costs to stay true to a 100% pro bono offering could ultimately hurt our portfolio in an industry that so heavily depends on quality output, we transitioned from pro bono to discounted offerings.
This transition was a pivotal moment for the company, as it forced us to gain a comprehensive understanding of the value of our work and gave me a much better grasp on what kinds of projects could be feasibly offered at a 100% pro bono rate. It also allowed me to hone in on what types of clients qualify for discounted vs pro bono offerings and gradually led us to differentiate between our paid and pro bono clientele as we made our way from a 100% pro bono to the 50% #givehalf model.
This leads me to the second-stepping stone: the #givehalf model is a guideline that is meant to be adapted to your business and industry. While 50% pro bono is what we should strive for, it is no way a must-do directive. It’s important to recognize this as you’re scaling and learning from your larger projects and clients. In our case, sustainability with the #givehalf model means offering animation and live action video projects pro bono less hard costs to small non-profits, while evaluating medium to larger sized non-profits on a case-by-case basis. We’re here to do our part in helping alleviate expenses for non-profit organizations in unique ways that will work best for us.
The Power of Collaboration
One of the biggest advantages of pro bono work is the opportunity to collaborate with and learn from fascinating individuals. When working as an entrepreneur on a bootstrap budget, you have to get creative in finding low-cost personal development and skill-sharing opportunities.
For me, the collaboration that has resulted from doing pro bono work has lead to the formation of a skill-sharing network, long-lasting relationships with peers, team growth, synergistic partnerships with like-minded entities, and a reliable advisory committee of coaches and mentors. It has protected me from isolation, and pushed me to remain resolute in my mission to scale filmanthropos.
Beyond these outcomes, collaboration with our volunteers cultivated my sense of self-awareness. I started to see my own strengths and limitations, and began to realize that my core strengths and the best use of my time lies in business development: scaling the business, seeking collaboration opportunities, exploring new initiatives, securing new clients, and recruiting quality talent that can deliver what is considered quality work in the industry we’re in.
As filmanthropos grew, I also began to see that delivering a video as a stand-alone piece to our clients was not enough to accomplish impact. They needed to know what to do with it— how to use it, how to engage people with it, how to get more visibility, and track metrics with their content.
At that time, we were experimenting with a marathon model of skills-based volunteering specifically for video production. Leveraging a production team of seven volunteers, we took on a self-created challenge to produce a pro bono short story for a select organization entirely over a 24-hr period. This collaboration led to the development of our most successful and popular offering today— the ProduceAthon— which we now offer on both a pro bono and large corporate level.
The point I want to iterate here is that serendipity lies within pro bono collaboration. When like-minded individuals dedicate their time and resources towards a purpose greater than themselves, we as individuals learn, become more self–aware, and invent. We are inspired to find new ways of leveraging the skills that we’ve acquired in one field to succeed in another. We think big and accomplish synergy.
Getting Creative with Pro Bono Offerings
As previously mentioned, a ProduceAthon is a social action campaign formed around the idea of creating a short-form video in a restricted timeframe, and addresses the issues our clients were facing with using their stories to generate engagement.
Social action campaigns engage an audience around a topic across various platforms. The engagement can occur through giveaway contests, social media management, through putting on events and activities, etc. So what we began doing with the ProduceAthon was building hype around the idea of creating and releasing a video— which in turn promotes the cause that the video is about.
A ProduceAthon is marketed as a round-the-clock creative blitz where volunteers come together to help a cause tell their story through a short film made over a very limited timeframe— often 24 to 48 hrs. Causes interested in becoming the beneficiary of the video compete to win through a social media giveaway campaign.
The best case study we have today of a successful social action campaign is our #ProduceLA2050 themed ProduceAthon. For #ProduceLA2050 we partnered with LA2050, the Goldhirsh Foundation, and the Center for Nonprofit Management to put on a series of events focused on creating a short film for an LA-based change maker that was helping to shape the future of Los Angeles in some way. The selected beneficiary of the event was LA River Revitalization Corp.
The campaign was split into a social media giveaway component, the ProduceAthon Event, and a Release Party to screen the video produced and celebrate our collective accomplishments.
The campaign raised awareness and engagement around the LA2050 draft goals, increased exposure for all competing non-profit organizations, and generated visibility and discussion around the revitalization of the LA River. It‘s a great example of a win-win-win scenario for all players involved.
This example really speaks to the importance of getting creative with your pro bono offerings. By marketing the good you are doing with a campaign, or partnering with other organizations with similar missions to yours for greater visibility, your pro bono initiatives have more likelihood of resulting in lead generation, increased awareness, and greater engagement.
Stay Self-Motivated & Persistent
The last-stepping stone is to remember to be persistent. As an entrepreneur, I’m constantly experimenting with new initiatives, which results in a cycle of very high highs and really low, lows.
The way that I’ve learned to deal with this is to recognize that this is a cycle many people experience; the reality is that leading a company is challenging and time consuming, and it really is a learning experience. I’ve learned to recognize that the lows are part of the process, and that they’re necessary, because for me, those are the times when I’ve been the most innovative and creative to pull myself out of them. Once I had this realization it was much easier to stay steadfast in my vision.
There was a point in our excitement where the agency decided to take on 10 pro bono video projects and complete them all within the last quarter of our fiscal year— we basically had seven weeks. Not realizing how unrealistic this was, this pushed us into a pro-bono to paid ratio of 80:20. With only two volunteers on hand at the time, we were completely overwhelmed and had to hold off on taking on additional pro-bono projects for a few months. While it took longer than expected, we forged through the work and gained invaluable insight along the way.
The final takeaway here is to remember that challenges are part of the process, and are necessary because they force us to innovate.