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How to Make the Most of Pro Bono Coaching (a quick guide)

Have you been considering coaching, but think you are unable to afford it?

Or maybe you have been offered pro bono coaching, but you’re unsure about accepting a free service. A bit of research should present a coach that is right for you and your budget. There are many coaches out there offering services at various price points, especially given the financially unstable times we’re in. And if you’re seriously considering pro bono coaching, then the following information should help get you started.

Pro bono (Latin — ‘for the public good’) coaching is coaching offered for free. Lawyers, for example, often offer pro bono services to worthy causes or clients who cannot afford legal fees. Some consultants and coaches do the same. Corporate coaches often volunteer in their spare time. Junior practitioners in all services will do this in order to gain experience, build a portfolio and a reputation, in addition to providing a service to those in need of it.

Pro Bono Does Not Mean Low Quality

As with anything that is offered at a low price or for free, some people welcome it, while others are sceptical about there being a catch or a too-good-to-be-true scenario. While I can’t speak for all pro bono providers, if the coach’s actual intention is to serve for the public good then what you see is what you should get. The provider should be transparent about any differences in their regular and pro bono services from the beginning — which they are entitled to apply, such as limited availability. While there may be limitations, the quality of their service and commitment should not vary.

How to Hire a Pro Bono Coach

Many coach training facilities offer pro bono services. Contact a local or reputable one and enquire, or ask for recommendations within your network.

Check the credentials of the coach as you would any other service. Check that they have been trained or where they have gained their experience. Verify that they uphold the code of ethics of an accredited course or coaching association, such as EMCC or ICF. If so, then the fact that the coaching is pro bono or perhaps provided by a junior coach should be irrelevant. They are keen to practise their skill. Wonderful! An ethical, dedicated and enthusiastic coach is what you want.

Feel free to ask your coach questions about their style, areas of interest and experience, their motivators, and results to ensure you are a good fit for each other. You both should feel comfortable working together in a spirit of honesty, openness and trust. You should be clear from the outset via conversations and a written coaching agreement or contract about the terms and conditions of your work together, and mutual expectations. If you are unclear about anything, ask until clarified. If you are still uncomfortable, you may need to find a different coach to get the results you want. Don’t be solely influenced by the chance of free coaching. Apply the same discernment you would with choosing a doctor, lawyer or hairdresser.

Pro bono coaching offers all the benefits of paid coaching, according to what you agree with your coach in advance. It simply means some of their coaching services are accessible to more people than their usual paid offerings. That does not mean that everyone can avail of them though — some coaches will provide their pro bono services to those who are really in need of them for a specific reason, and proof of this may be required.

Pros of Pro Bono Coaching

Clients who would not normally be able to receive coaching, or who would not take the initiative to make use of it, have the opportunity to do so without the expense.

Clients in a difficult position may make positive change through coaching that will in turn help them out of that difficult position.

All coaches, but particularly junior coaches, will gain experience through working with their pro bono clients.

The pro bono spirit in its truest ‘for the public good’ sense will be sustained and hopefully continued by all who benefit from it.

Cons of Pro Bono Coaching

There may be limitations in terms of what is offered.

It is sometimes unavoidable that something that is offered for free is undervalued and not taken as seriously as something that is paid for.

Abuse or misuse of pro bono services can lead to a loss of time and other resources, and may mean that someone who is in need of them misses out on the opportunity.

How to Get the Most Out of Pro Bono Coaching

As stated above, before beginning, get very clear on what you can expect and what is expected of you, as well as the details of the verbal and written agreements you have made with your coach.

Be honest, open and trusting of your coach — coaching is judgement-free. Don’t worry about what your coach thinks of you. Their job is to listen and ask questions to get you closer to your own truth.

Give feedback to your coach — your coach wants to know what works well or not so well for you in each session. Help them by sharing your experience with them. They will use this information to fuel subsequent sessions.

Enter into the spirit of coaching fully for the duration of your contract. Commit to the journey. Be open to enquiry. Be open to change. Be open to discomfort as you confront yourself and the (positive) changes you decide to make. Be open to reaching your goals. Take action on your agreed action steps. Journal about your experience. Just like a new fitness or healthy eating regime needs commitment and consistency, so does your coaching journey.

If you are satisfied with your coach, give them a testimonial, and refer others to them. These gestures will allow them to support more people through pro bono and paid coaching.

When you’re in a better position financially, pay for your coaching in the future. Support your coach, and give someone else the chance of pro bono coaching that you previously benefitted from.

Explore all the possibilities coaching leads you to with an open mind. Ultimately, you should come out of coaching feeling better, albeit a bit stretched and sore, as you do after a good workout. That’s the feeling of growth. Allow it to be fun!

The original version of this article appears here:


Siobhán is a personal leadership and communication coach, and helps her clients to step out of the life they’ve drifted into, and step into the future they really want.

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