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Pro Bono Design Handbook for NONPROFITS a publication of Public Architecture

A step-by-step resource for nonprofits interested in The 1% program and its network of architects and designers offering pro bono design services Š Roy Zipstein

The 1% program of Public Architecture provides a national network of architecture and design firms contributing pro bono services to nonprofit organizations with design service needs. Whether you are already participating in The 1% program or just beginning to think about your organization’s design needs, this handbook will guide you through the matching process, from taking stock of your resources to finding and partnering with a design firm. Design can increase your organization’s capacity to serve its mission. How can it do this? And how can you get the most out of The 1%? By educating nonprofits on the design process and their role as client, this handbook will give you the tools to ensure the success of your pro bono project.

WHAT IS PRO BONO DESIGN? The 1% defines pro bono service as professional services rendered in the public interest without expectation of a fee or with a significant reduction in fees (refer to glossary, pro bono compensation structures). Pro bono service can take many forms; it is any contribution of designers’ knowledge, skills, judgment, and/or creativity that services the public good. The 1% primarily serves 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations. These organizations have been relieved of their tax burden in recognition of the societal benefit they provide, making them appropriate pro bono clients.








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“As a firm, we see growth in communications, personal satisfaction, professional development, and networking, and our employees get a real handle on what kind of impact their skills can have in the community.” Roy Abernathy, Principal at Jova/Daniels/Busby in Atlanta, Georgia

© Courtesy Jova/Daniels/Bubsy



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Design projects benefit when the client performs an internal assessment of their resources to understand how their strengths can benefit the design process. Those resources range from staff capacity to manage the project internally to fundraising in the capital campaign to support the construction process. Before contacting a firm, perform the following activities to drive energy and resources towards your project. Wellorganized nonprofits exhibit a commitment to their project’s success and are more likely to attract interest from firms.

Establish a committee of stakeholders to gather ideas, prioritize projects, and strategize on fundraising. This will likely include board members, community leaders, and senior staff. Ensure their input on the future direction of your organization is heard.

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Identify key decision-makers within your organization

Appraise fundraising opportunities Assessing sources for present and future funding should happen early in the process to determine a workable scope and phasing plan for the project. Design can aid with fundraising through the production of capital campaign materials, such as architectural renderings that show what your new facility could look like, or a facility needs assessment to better define the scope of work that needs to be done.

Cultivate connections Reach out to your broader network of donors, clients, and volunteers as you develop a vision for your new space. They may have useful input on the design or be able to point to additional pro bono and in-kind resources. For the Hands on Atlanta headquarters in Atlanta, in-kind donations poured in from supporters of the organization, from cubicles to office furniture and even electronics, and ultimately informed much of the design.

Identify opportunities and challenges Look at the particulars of your organization. Are there specific attributes of your organization, its mission, and its clients that create any notable opportunities or constraints for the design improvements under consideration? Does your clientele have accessibility issues? Are there unique cultural needs among your community that will impact the design of the space?

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The 1% program has identified some of the most common design service needs for nonprofit organizations. These service offerings were developed to build nonprofits’ capacity:

A designer can help determine your design goals, but knowing your organization’s long term plans in advance will help move the process forward. Envision how your organization will evolve and grow, regardless of whether the goal is a new facility, a landscaped space, or interior design. The vision for your design project relies on clearly articulated goals and desired outcomes.

A detailed description of these design service offerings can be found in the glossary.

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Desired outcomes

• Facility needs assessment • Capital campaign materials • Building & space identification • Interior design & brand integration • Accessibility & sustainability • Facilities renovation

Organizational precedents Seek out other organizations that have pursued a similar project. Ask them what pitfalls they encountered along the way and what preparatory steps helped streamline their process. The 1% has a vast network of nonprofits that are pursuing or have completed pro bono projects. Scan the Project Gallery for projects you like and see if you can arrange a conference call to discuss and learn from their process.

What spaces inspire you? Identifying inspiring spaces is a valuable tool for determining design goals. Start collecting images of spaces and places that you find compelling. This can include samples of materials, colors that capture your imagination, or other spaces you find attractive and function well. Magazines such as Architect, Landscape Architecture, Interior Design, Dwell, and Metropolis are among numerous design magazines and other publications that feature well-designed projects at a variety of scales, budgets and project types.

Timeline Establishing a timeline early in the process will help make partnering with a 1% firm more efficient and ultimately help to keep the project on budget. When a project team is confronted with an unrealistic timeline, it can put your project behind schedule and cause a domino effect of overages from staff overtime to increased cost of materials and deliveries. A schedule provides a concrete metric against which you can track the progress of the project. It will also assist designers in budgeting their time accordingly.

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Once on The 1% homepage, register your nonprofit by clicking “Join The 1%” in the upper right corner. Fill out the questionnaire with your organization’s contact information; include relevant information about your mission, partners, funders, tax status, and the design services needed. Upload an image or logo that represents your organization. Once this information is entered, select SUBMIT at the bottom of the page.

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Add a new project The 1% program is made up of hundreds of design firms across the country, whose combined pro bono service pledges were valued at $40 million at the close of 2011. These professionals are here to serve your design needs, whether redesigning a space to anticipate your organization’s growth, creating a better work or client environment, or strengthening the brand identity by integrating your organization’s messaging into a space. The registration process is easy. If you haven’t already, join now at and request your 1%.

After registering with The 1%, the website takes you to your new 1% profile. The next step is to ADD A NEW PROJECT by clicking the tab in the center of the page to post your design service need on the website. Fill out the project profile with information about your community, your goals, the project funding and in-kind donations available, as well as the project timeline. Be specific about your design service needs, describing the scope of work and scale of the project. Upload an image that ‘sells’ your project, such as a photo of your project’s existing condition. To save the project and submit it to Public Architecture for review, click SUBMIT at the bottom of the page. To add more details or change the project scope at a later time, simply update the project profile, and click SUBMIT again. The 1% program will send you an email to let you know when your project is approved and visible to firms seeking nonprofit projects. Nonprofits may post more than one service request to the website. This is relevant for projects that require more than one design discipline, such as interior design and architecture. Additionally, some nonprofits that are embarking on large building campaigns find it easier and quicker to match with a firm if they limit the service request to preliminary design services such as a facility needs assessment and capital campaign renderings. Once this scope of work is complete, the matched firm and nonprofit can agree to continue to work together or the nonprofit can add another project to The 1%, requesting services for the next phase of work in the design process. See Phasing for more information.

Public Architecture support

Refer to How it Works for a quick reference on the registration and matching process. Have questions along the way? Email info@

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Public Architecture staff reviews every nonprofit registration and project posted to The 1%, and is available to answer questions. To participate, nonprofits must have 501(c)(3) status or a fiscal sponsor, and be based in the US. This does not exclude nonprofits from having projects located outside the country. We provide feedback as needed to improve and clarify the project profile before it is visible to firm participants and goes live on The 1% website for matching.


Find firms Login to search for participating firms; this automatically takes you to MY 1% HOME. Click FIND FIRMS in the center of the page. Filter the list of firms by VIEW ONLY MY CITY, VIEW ONLY MY STATE or VIEW ALL. Visit their 1% profiles and websites, and establish a shortlist of qualified firms.

Assess suitability

In just the first three years, The 1% matching service helped nearly two hundred nonprofits seeking pro bono design services—and the numbers are continually growing. If your organization is ready to begin the matching process, with your registration and project approved by Public Architecture, go to “My 1% Login” and start searching for firms.

Research the design disciplines represented in the firms. Review their portfolio and the project types represented. Does your project require architecture, landscape architecture, engineering services, or another design service? Does the firm have experience in the service area of your organization? Note which firms’ service offerings match your design goals. Based on your design goals and the services required for your project, begin to assess the suitability of the firms. By asking the questions below, you can begin to assemble a list of firms that have the skills and capacity appropriate to take your project to completion. • Has the firm completed projects of a similar scope or size in the past? • Does the firm’s 1% profile offer the design services your organization needs? Some firms only offer preliminary design services, which would not be a good fit if your goal is to design and construct a new building or renovation. • Do they have experience with your project type? For example, if your organization is a healthcare provider, does the firm have healthcare facility experience? • Are you more inclined to go with a small firm or large firm? Does the firm need to be local?

Request services Once you have a short list of firms, it is time to request design services. Login into MY 1% and click FIND FIRMS, and navigate to the first firm on your list. Select REQUEST SERVICES to the right of the firm you wish to contact. By the click of your mouse, The 1% system automatically generates and sends an inquiry email to the firm. Nonprofits can only inquire with three firms at any given time. Inquiries automatically expire after two weeks if no response is received. Firms can also send you inquiries to offer their services on your project.

The matching process has three stages before a match is confirmed. With the first inquiry sent to a firm, the system automatically changes the match status to “pending.” If the firm responds positively to the inquiry, the project status becomes “accepted.” At this stage, we advise the firm and nonprofit to arrange a meeting to discuss the project in depth and determine if the partnership could be a good fit. See Meet firm candidates for tips to think about when first talking with designers.

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Confirm the match

The final stage is to confirm the match. This should happen only after an agreement to work together is made between your nonprofit and the firm. To confirm a match, login to MY 1%. Under the project listing, click CONFIRM next to the firm’s name. The system changes the project status to “In-progress.” This action removes the project from the matching pool and it is no longer visible to other firms on The 1% website. If the match does not work out for whatever reason, you can re-post your project by emailing

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Ask to set up an in-person meeting with the contact person at the potential partnering firms. If that isn’t feasible, request a portfolio of their work, a list of qualifications, and references. Share your project goals, talk to their past clients and visit their completed projects in your area. Learn as much as possible about the firms in order to make an informed decision about their suitability for your project.

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Interview your top contenders

Review your impressions Successful partnering on a project is a two-way process. The matching process is more efficient when both firm and nonprofit participants are proactive communicators. The following section is meant to help nonprofits prepare to talk to candidate firm partners.

Before choosing a firm, review your impressions. A good working relationship and compatible communication style are just as important as the firm’s strength and design talent. Mutual trust and understanding is paramount. Ask yourself the following questions: • Does the design team understand and support your organization’s mission? • Are your schedules’ compatible? • Do you understand the designer’s process? • Do you have the same expectations for the scope of work? • Is there a mutual understanding about the pro bono fee structure? • Has the firm completed other pro bono projects, and if so, how were those projects integrated into the office? • Is there a liaison or point person at the firm? Is that person excited about your project?

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Identify available funding sources and create a project budget with your organization’s key stakeholders. Work with the designer to assess budget feasibility. It is important to consider life cycle costs to calculate and analyze expected future operating and maintenance costs. The Nonprofit Finance Fund and other likeminded organizations can provide excellent third party advice on how to finance capital projects. Your board should play a key role in all financial decisions.

Pro bono compensation The following section identifies important variables for nonprofits to consider when beginning any design project. Setting your expectations for each of these variables before you meet with a designer will advance the conversation and reflect positively on your organization as a potential new client.

Even if the work is being done gratis, you should expect to receive invoices from your designer, noting time spent working on the project and the value of their donation. Acknowledging the value of services quantifies the firm’s investment in the project and can be used to solicit other large donations for construction.

Liability Given that the design firm you’re working with is contributing their time pro bono, they may seek to mitigate some of their liability exposure as part of your contract. Liability concerns should be fully vetted by your organization’s board and legal counsel.

Sign a contract A formal agreement between the two parties is recommended. The document serves as an opportunity to ensure that you and the partner firm envision the same project, requirements and expectations. Contracts should also be reviewed by your organization’s legal counsel.

Phasing Depending on the fundraising situation, consider dividing the project into phases of work to make achieving the overall goals more feasible. This may also improve your chances for a successful match, as smaller projects are easier for firms to take on with less resources and staff capacity.

Decision making and collaboration Set a clear method for decision-making by establishing primary contacts within your organization and the design firm. A designer will depend on timely communication regarding your design preferences, functional requirements, and budget. It is important that internal decisions are made promptly to minimize impact on the schedule and budget. A designer will depend on timely communication regarding your design preferences, functional requirements, and budget. It is important that internal decisions are made promptly to minimize impact on the schedule and budget.

Let Public Architecture know when your project is complete. This provides us with important metrics to evaluate and promote the success of the program. We like to feature successfully completed pro bono projects on our blog, in case studies, and resources such as this handbook. Update the project status by returning to The 1% website and change the project status to “Completed.� Feel free to email info@ and tell us more about your completed project and experience in the program.

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Completing the project

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“We were never treated as the ‘pro bono project.’ SERA Architects saw this as a real professional relationship to invest in. Most nonprofits believe that they don’t deserve a well-designed space. At p:ear, we really believe in the effect that good design has on how one feels in a space, especially when dealing with homeless youth.” Beth Burns, Executive Director, p:ear; Portland, Oregon

© Jamie Myers Forsythe



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Treat the design firm like you would treat any donor at a comparable level. Recognize their contribution publicly and invite them to your organization’s programs and events. And though it’s obvious, be sure to say ‘thank you’ for their help.

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Recognize firm

Community outreach Show the positive change brought by the project to donors and community at large. Invite community members to watch and participate as the project develops. This can be done through programming and events on site.

Community engagement throughout all phases of the design will help make the process a good experience for everyone, from the designers to your staff, stakeholders, neighbors, and clients. Documenting and publicizing the project’s progress and its completion is a good way to honor and promote the collaboration. Community pride in the project can go a long way after the project is complete.

Media campaign There are numerous ways for the project and your organization to receive media coverage. Below are some common methods. • Develop a brief, informal script that describes your collaboration with the designer. Make it available for staff to promote the project with donors and stakeholders. • Display presentation boards detailing the project’s concept and progress. • Start a project blog or track your progress on Facebook or Twitter. This provides a living record of the project’s completion. • Pitch your project to local media as a story.

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“We offer a true continuum of services, but, overall, this building is now one of our best tools to help women and families exit poverty and homelessness.” Martha Ryan, Executive Director, Homeless Prenatal Program; San Francisco, California

© Mark Darley / Esto


Design Advocates is a 1% program initiative launched in 2010. A select group of 1% firms serve as local advocates for pro bono design in communities across the country. Through outreach events, they disseminate The 1% mission, highlight local design needs, and showcase projects completed for the public good. Find the Design Advocate in your region to attend an outreach event and meet local 1% designers in-person.

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The 1% Design Advocates

The Public Dialogue The 1% program is a critical component of Public Architecture’s advocacy and outreach campaigns. We conduct case studies on a regular basis to distill best practices and have a number of other project resources to further assist nonprofit clients committed to social change and their designers.

The Public Dialogue is Public Architecture’s blog and media channel. Edited by Public Architecture staff, it includes project and program updates, an event calendar, and reposts of articles published by our media partners.

The 1% firm and nonprofit surveys The 1% annual survey represents the first quantifiable nationwide measure of pro bono practice in the architecture and design professions. In addition, Public Architecture surveys the client experience of 1% nonprofits. Since the launch in 2006, survey feedback has informed The 1% program growth and improvements to better serve its participants and facilitate positive community change through pro bono design.

The 1% Project Gallery The 1% Project Gallery is an online photo gallery comprised of the pro bono projects firms and nonprofits post on the website. It links images to the project description and details. Every project uploaded to the website is featured in the gallery, and can be sorted by completed, inprogress, and nonprofits seeking assistance.

The Power of Pro Bono The Power of Pro Bono is a first-of-its-kind book by Public Architecture that presents 40 pro bono design projects across the country, equally representing the voices of architects and their clients. The selected works represent the arts, civic, community, education, health, and housing sectors.

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Organized alphabetically, this glossary is an introduction to design language for nonprofits, as they participate in The 1% program and move forward with their design projects. It provides terminology specific to The 1% matching process, as well as the design process, and partnering on a pro bono project with a firm.

Contingency plan: a plan devised for a specific situation when a project’s budget exceeds its predicted expectations. Contingency plans are often devised by governments or businesses who want to be prepared for anything that could happen. Copyright: the legal right of creative artists or publishers to control the use and reproduction of their original works Cost overrun: “cost increase,” or “budget overrun” is an unexpected cost incurred in excess of a budgeted amount, due to cost underestimation Functional requirements: the function of a building can be described as encompassing all criteria of the use, perception and enjoyment of a building—not only practically, but also aesthetically, psychologically and culturally. Indemnification: an agreement between two parties not to hold one of them liable for future legal action or fines. Liability exposure: vulnerable to claims of consequential responsibility; anything for which a company is legally bound or obligated, as to make good any loss or damage that occurs in a transaction. Life cycle cost: sum of all recurring and one-time (non-recurring) costs over the full life span or a specified period of a good, service, structure, or system. Pro bono compensation structures: each firm’s system for tracking and invoicing services contributed on pro bono projects is different. These are some the most common approaches to pro bono compensation: • Free services • Free services with zeroed out invoice • Nominal fee invoice • Reduced fee • Reimbursable expenses are paid but time spent on the project is free • Phasing pay structure is different costs for each phase of design


Pro bono program: ‘Program’ in the nonprofit world means something entirely different in the building industry. In the building industry, program is the scope of work and needs, whereas in the nonprofit world, program is the activity that advances the organization’s mission. Combining those definitions, one gets ‘Pro bono program’, meaning the scope of work needed to advance the mission of the organization. Reimbursable expense: an expense that can be reimbursed, or paid back. Scope of services: the chronological division of work to be performed under a contract or subcontract in the completion of a project. Sustainable design: every building project, big or small, should consider developing a green strategy scaled to cost, capacity and need. Sustainability is not abstract; it means increased efficiencies, life cycle cost savings, and the creation of spaces that your organization can be proud of. More information can be found in The 1% resource, “Sustainability for Nonprofits.” Termination: to break the term of an agreement or contract Universal design: accessibility is just as important and necessary as sustainability. The concept of universal design refers to facility designs that accommodate the widest range of potential users. This does not necessarily refer to providing access to people with impairments, but offers the design challenge of creating spaces that allow for the full spectrum of the human condition, from young to old, short to tall. Waiver of claims: a form and agreement that one signs to surrender their right to file a suit or express certain demands outline therein. A waiver of claims may be signed by a client to relinquish their right to sue an agent.

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Pro bono design service offerings: The following pro bono service offerings were identified and informed by a survey of the first 150 firms to pledge their time through The 1% program. The 1% service offering descriptions were developed with the aid of the Taproot Foundation, which similarly confers an array of “Service Grants” to build nonprofits’ capacity.

Facilities renovation: work with a 1% firm to design the renovation of your existing space, site or facility. A firm can also make recommendations for general contractors and assist you throughout the construction process.

Facility needs assessment: work with an architecture, landscape architecture or engineering firm to assess how your facility accommodates your staff, programs, culture, resources, and anticipated growth. Capital campaign materials: work with a design firm to produce graphic renderings that envision your completed project to raise funds for a new facility or renovation. Funders are more likely to sponsor projects that they can visualize and get excited about. Building & space identification: partner with an architecture firm to visit and analyze potential spaces, to help you select a new space that fits your needs and plans for growth. A firm can also assess the feasibility of sharing space with other nonprofits or entities, and the benefits of leasing versus purchasing. Interior design & brand integration: work with a designer to integrate an organizations brand and logo into its interior and exterior spaces to effectively conveying your mission through your physical space. Accessibility & code compliance: ensure that your office space doesn’t restrict your pool of potential clients and staff by bringing up it to code, encouraging accessibility and universal access, and ensuring you have a healthy work environment that doesn’t adversely impact the environment.

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Healthy & sustainable environments: architecture and design firms can help you address issues such as ergonomics, energy efficiency, and overall sustainability to ensure you have a healthy work environment that doesn’t adversely impact the environment. See sustainable design.

Pro Bono Design Handbook is a publication of Public Architecture. Design: Kay Cheng Thanks to Public Architecture staff and volunteers who contributed to this publication: Amy Ress, Cali Pfaff, Grant Alexander, John Cary, John Peterson, Kristen Dotson, Liz Ogbu, Mia Scharphie, Nick McClintock, Trudy Garber, Jennifer Tai. Additional thanks to firm and nonprofit contributors. The 1% is a program of Public Architecture, www.theonepercent. org. Established in 2002, Public Architecture is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Visit for more information. This publication was made possible by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, This handbook is licensed by Public Architecture under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.


Pro Bono Design Handbook for Nonprofits