What Is Pro Bono?

Pro bono refers to a professional service dispensed on a voluntary basis either for free or at a significantly reduced cost to the recipient. The term pro bono is derived from the Latin phrase "pro bono publico," which means "for the public good." Pro bono is mostly associated with attorneys, although is not uncommon for members of other professions, including financial planners, to offer their expertise to those with limited means free of charge.

How Pro Bono Works

The provider of a pro bono service may generally do so only to a party that is unable to afford their services. In doing so, the provider is perceived to be imparting a benefit for the greater good, rather than for the typical profit motive.

Likely recipients of pro bono services include:

  • Individuals of limited means.
  • Charitable, community, civic, religious, governmental, or educational organizations established to primarily cater to individuals or families of limited means.
  • Immigrants and immigrant communities.
  • Nascent non-profit groups looking to further their organizational and logistical establishment, where payment of the standard fees would significantly hemorrhage or wholly deplete the organization's economic resources.

Numerous foundations have been established for the purpose of recruiting pro bono professionals, assisting those interested in donating their time and services for the public good. These resource centers offer technical support and sometimes funds to help pro bono professionals cover out-of-pocket expenses such as document production, copying, and postage fees.

Key Takeaways

  • Pro bono is a professional service dispensed on a voluntary basis usually at no cost to the recipient.
  • Experts in many fields offer pro bono services to non-profit organizations, such as hospitals, universities, national charities, churches, and foundations, or to individual clients who cannot afford to pay their regular fees.
  • Two non-profit charities–the Foundation for Financial Planning (FFP) and the Financial Planning Association (FPA)–provide pro bono financial planning to people in need.

Example of Pro Bono 

Pro bono is mainly associated with legal services, although it has become common for members of other professions to extend their expertise to people who usually would not be able to afford it. Financial planners are among those who contribute pro bono services, especially to non-profit organizations and individuals.

Leading the way is the Foundation for Financial Planning (FFP), a non-profit charity dedicated to providing pro bono financial planning to people in need. The FFP helps engage and train volunteers to participate in programs that serve financially vulnerable members of society, including wounded veterans, domestic violence survivors, and struggling single parents.

The Financial Planning Association (FPA), a U.S.-based professional organization formed in 2000 that assists members of the public to find ethical, objective, client-focused financial planners, also encourages volunteering work. In 2001, following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, a group of certified financial planners (CFPs) set up the FPA's pro bono program, targeting underserved individuals and families who are striving to build assets and improve their lives but who cannot afford to engage a planner on their own.

The FPA and FFP often collaborate with each other. For instance, the pair joined forces with national non-profit Family Reach to provide pro bono financial planning to the families of people diagnosed with cancer through The Financial Planning for Cancer program.

Benefits of Pro Bono

Pro bono financial planning can empower individuals and organizations to make more responsible fiscal decisions. The advice provided by these volunteers can give those who are usually unable to afford assistance the educational support they need to become more financially literate, and the tools required to achieve financial autonomy.

Providers of these financial services also benefit. Aside from taking satisfaction from assisting people in need, pro bono work can give young professionals in the field an opportunity to nurture their professional development, helping them to hone their interviewing skills, negotiation techniques, and experience working with interpreters, among other things.