Communication Is Key: Jeff Komanetsky's Pro Bono Story and Tips for Volunteers

Sharing your skills pro bono is an opportunity to both do something for others and break free from your usual role/worklife.
Dec 14, 2020 8:00 AM ET

As the year draws to a close, we’re highlighting some of our favorite pro bono stories of 2020. This profile is a part of our ongoing series on how workforce development organizations in particular are using this valuable resource.

The world of work is evolving, and as it does, workforce development nonprofits are making sure that people can get the training and tools they need to find careers and thrive. But where do these nonprofits turn when they need additional support?

This summer and fall, we’ve been featuring workforce development nonprofits that use pro bono service as a resource to increase their own capacity to build communities that work. And we’re also talking to the skilled volunteers that they’ve teamed up with to tackle those projects!

Stacks+Joules, a workforce development nonprofit we profiled on our blog, has used pro bono in a number of ways since it was founded. They told us all about an impressive pro bono messaging project they completed with volunteer Jeff Komanetsky, so we reached out to learn more about how it went and what advice he could share with other professionals interested in donating their skills.

Why choose pro bono service?

Jeff knew he had expertise nonprofits could use and that he wanted to find an opportunity to share it. That’s a feeling many first-time volunteers have before getting involved with pro bono—like they want to donate their time, but don’t see a clear way to provide the most value.

“I knew I should give more of myself… but I was concerned about what skills I could offer. If you sent me to build a house somewhere, that house would not be standing a few years later. I wanted to make the most of my skills—to find a way to share my expertise that was as impactful as it could be in the short amount of time I had.”

The work he normally does:

Jeff is a senior creative copywriter at Kaspersky, a cybersecurity company he has worked with for the past seven years. Throughout his career he has honed the ability to take complex information and help others understand it, a key marketing strength that many nonprofits are looking for (especially those tackling complex challenges that can’t be easily summed up). Marketing is one of the most sought-after pro bono specialties we see requests for; there are a lot of opportunities for people who have those skills to donate them.

Why this project with Stacks+Joules?

When the opportunity with Stacks+Joules came up, Jeff was already raring to go. “I had to have had a Taproot Plus tab open for as long as it’s been in existence,” he told us. “One of the things that drew me to this project was that they were looking for expertise in one of the things I love to do: take something very technical or complicated and make it very accessible, both in how it’s worded and the way it’s organized.”

“What got me to actually click and apply was the topic. It was a sweet spot for me, and I was confident that I could help and make an impact.”

Stacks+Joules was looking for a writing and marketing expert to work on content that could explain what they do, how it works, what the benefits are, etc. They sent Jeff their existing materials to get the ball rolling, and from there the collaboration between them grew organically.

“It was great—a textbook creative process where we had a back and forth that answered most of our questions. Any time we talked it was purposeful and informative.”

The project came together beautifully, and Stacks+Joules still uses the marketing materials from their work with Jeff as a resource!

Jeff’s advice for others interested in sharing their skills pro bono:

  • “Be mindful that this is their story to tell.” This tip was very literal in the work with Stacks+Joules, but he pointed out that there’s a valuable lesson in it for every pro bono project. The nonprofit knows their story well—you’re there to assist in the incredible work they’re already doing by adding your expertise.
  • Keep communication clear, honest, and respectful. Communication was key to his collaboration with Stacks+Joules and made the whole process easier to manage. The tone of mutual appreciation in communication was very important, too. 

“I’d say ‘Here’s my go at it, and I’d appreciate your input, because this is just round one’ or add ‘but let me know your thoughts’ to the end of my suggestions to reinforce the mutual respect.”

  • Set and stick to your own deadlines. It’s likely you have deadlines set for you by clients or your team in your typical work. But when you’re working on a pro bono project, the timelines for completing work can be hazy—unless you take the time to clarify them.

“It’s not on someone else to check in on you—check and respect your own deadlines. When you do that, you’ll have more time to adjust afterward and iterate on your work.”

Looking ahead:

This summer Jeff reconnected with Stacks+Joules and they already have plans to tackle another project together. He’s also looking forward to more pro bono opportunities in the future and getting to know new organizations through Taproot Plus. “I really appreciated the structure that was provided. As it turned out this project was great and everything clicked—but you don’t know if that’ll happen going in,” Jeff explained.

“It was nice to know that Taproot was there in the background, and in the future, that’ll make me more confident to try a project with an organization I may not be as familiar with. And I will do another one!”

Jeff had some parting advice about what pro bono could mean for first-time volunteers interested in challenging themselves and leaving their comfort zones: Step outside yourself. Sharing your skills pro bono is an opportunity to both do something for others and break free from your usual role/worklife.

“Whether you’re in a professional rut or not, there are so many benefits to stepping out of your routine. You’re opening yourself to new ideas and to change. Plus, you get to come in and show your expertise. There’s even the possibility of new mentorship walking into your life!

If you do things like that on a regular basis—and if you’re open-minded about new ideas, new people, and even new routines—that’s almost a guarantee that your life will change and improve. It’s a gift to step out of your own world for a little bit.”

Interested in how you could share your skills pro bono (even from the comfort of your own home)? Sign up to learn more about Taproot Plus.

Curious about the impact of workforce development pro bono? Check out our other profiles on organizations and volunteers in the field