Interview with Matthew Manos, founder of the “give-half” movement

We’ve been curious to know more about the “Give-Half” movement. We are keen to apply it methodologically, since we want to continue doing pro-bono work for the charities we work for. We contacted Matthew Manos, the founder of the movement, because we wanted to know how and why it came to live. We’ve been happy to hear Matthew accepted our proposal. Here is the interview:

How would you describe the give-half movement?

The give-half movement initially launched as a project that would open source all of Verynice’s proprietary approaches to strategic pro-bono service. Our company is the originator of the model, and after realizing that we could maintain success and growth with these constraints, we knew we had to share it with the world. We originally self-published our best practices in a book titled “How to Give Half of Your Work Away for Free”, and the tools have since been leveraged by thousands of practitioners across the globe. As attention for our work continued to grow, the model became a brand of its own, and I personally travel far and wide to advocate for this kind of radical philanthropy, and the idea that giving can easily co-exist with getting.

How did you come with that business model idea?

I took on my first pro-bono client when I was in high school, and quickly became addicted to the process of it all. Throughout college, I worked pro-bono for dozens of nonprofits and student groups on the UCLA campus, and eventually had enough work to justify putting together a brand and a website. Enter verynice. All the while, I was learning about the lack of access to design services that nonprofits had in the US. I was seeing first hand the greed of our industry, and the lack of interest many firms had in using their skills for the greater good began to dishearten me. Where would I get a job? I had to create my own job – a job that aligned with my values. In doing so, I accidentally launched one of the first social enterprises in the design industry.

Non-profit organizations are spending billions upon billions of dollars each year on fees billed by service-providers. While expenditures for services like marketing and design grow each year, funding declines. In fact, in 2013, there were 62 billion dollars in cuts from federal funding for non-profit organizations. When you compare this to foundation funding which, in 2012, came to a total of 46 billion dollars, it is clear that the social sector is becoming overwhelmingly drained of resources. Traditional means of philanthropy alone can no longer take the only supportive seat at the table.

When a non-profit is able to save valuable financial resources thanks to the generous pro-bono commitments of service-providers, they are able to immediately re-invest those dollars directly into their cause. Imagine what a spare 8 billion dollars could do? As business owners, freelancers, and entrepreneurs, we need to do our part to alleviate expenses for non-profit organizations by making giving back an integral component of our business model. The double-half methodology is one way to do that.

What is the so-called the double-half methodology?

The “double-half methodology” is the inner workings of the give-half model. If you want to give half of your work away for free and do just as well as the next guy, the simple equation is that you have to do twice the amount of work that they do. As a result, one of the key components of the double-half methodology is an innovative approach to capacity building in which creative outsourcing and openness to remote collaboration is at the center. By bringing on teams on a per project basis as opposed to building a dedicated, permanent staff, monthly fixed costs are brought to a minimum which makes giving work away for free and affordable, if not overhead-less, endeavor. While paid projects employ paid contractors, unpaid/pro-bono projects pull from the same pool of contractors, but invite them to participate in the project on a volunteer basis.

Because the model thrives off of a high volume of work, the core competency of the permanent individual (or team if applicable) is management above all other skill sets. Typical roles of production are outsourced as often as possible and are overseen by the permanent team in order to drive focus and allow for successful time management. While 100% of guaranteed revenue streams originate from only 50% of the clientele, an exchange of “value” still results from all projects regardless of the presence of monetary payment.

New contacts that are developed through pro-bono endeavors are leveraged in order to fuel word-of-mouth marketing which, in turn, serves as a primary referral base for new business leads. Small organizations are home to a staff that is, more often than not, working on a volunteer basis. These people have “day jobs” elsewhere. These day jobs can become a source of projects for you. Large organizations are not home to a volunteer staff, but they do house influential board members who are often CEOs of major corporations. These board members are a “foot in the door” to potential paid work from larger accounts that would otherwise not be within reach.

When you are doing something for free, more often than not, you are allowed more control over the scope and/or creative vision for a project then you would for a paid engagement. As a result, the work that is derived from unpaid clientele frequently allows for the piloting of an experimental idea or completely new category of service. In doing so, volunteer work serves as a tool for growth in a company’s experience and offering.

For what kind of companies and organizations have you provided these services?

Verynice has been able to work across a wide range of causes across the world. We reserve our pro-bono services for 501c3 organizations, but also provide partial pro-bono services by way of sliding scale rates and discounts to any business or organization that is set on making considerable impact. Since our inception, we have been able to provide work that has benefited over 450 organizations.

The majority of our philanthropic and social impact endeavors span 6 categories: Education, Health, Economic Development, Arts & Culture, Human Rights, and the Environment, with the majority of our impact taking place in the Education and Health sectors.

What’s the estimate amount of money that your organization have given away for free with pro bono work?

At the time of our interview (Jan, 2017), Verynice has been able to donate $6,572,592.50 worth of free and discounted services to 475 beneficiaries spanning 1076 projects. With the official pro-bono hour having a value of $150, our work translates into 43,817 hours of service.

You are also the founder of Verynice Design, can you tell us about the company?

Verynice is a global design strategy consultancy that gives half of its work away for free. I launched the company in 2008 in order to build a prime example of what a socially responsible business can look like. verynice has worked with hundreds of clients, and our services include traditional design, design strategy, and design education. verynice is also the originator of the give-half model as well as another initiative, Models of Impact.

What are the main characteristics of a socially responsible business?

A socially responsible business is one that does not treat impact as an after-thought, but instead as an integral component of their brand’s offering. At Verynice, we define a for-profit social enterprise as a business that focuses at least half of its efforts toward creating impact. A nonprofit social enterprise, on the other hand, is defined as an organization that leverages private sector techniques in order to find new avenues for financial sustainability.

In 2016 you published the book Toward a Preemptive Social Enterprise, what are the ideas behind it?

After working with hundreds of organizations across the private and social sectors, I’ve noticed a key trend. Organizations and enterprises in the social sector are almost always born out of a state of emergency. Something terrible happens, and then a non-profit is launched in order to tackle the problem. This is an incredibly reactionary approach. In the private sector, however, we see the opposite. Startups and for-profit corporations are rewarded for thinking preemptively. In Toward a Preemptive Social Enterprise, we explore the idea of introducing private sector techniques that champion strategic foresight and design thinking, to the social sector.

Is there any company, organization or individual that you personally would want to do some pro bono for, but haven’t had the chance yet?

We’ve been very fortunate to have already worked with many of my original “dream clients”. As of right now, we are less interested in a particular individual or organization, and instead being as relevant as possible to some of the most critical causes of the current moment in time.

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