“To whom much is given, much is required.” Yeah, that’s from the Bible — Luke 12:48, but some of you might refer to it as part of karma, or what you put out there comes back to you.
Pro bono publico comes from the Latin, meaning “for the good.” Many nonprofit organizations are dedicated to doing good, but they don’t have the funds to pay someone. They still need those services if they’re to be successful. It can take awhile to write and hopefully get approved for a grant. They rely on the goodwill of people to provide those services, either for free or at a reduced cost.
Several fields require pro bono work as a condition of keeping one’s license to practice. “The American Bar Association Model Rule 6.1 states that ‘a lawyer should aspire to render at least (50) hours of pro bono publico legal services per year.’ Some companies have created structured pro bono programs to make it easier for lawyers to give back. And, undoubtedly, some lawyers want to and are able to do pro bono without built-in requirements or incentives,” says Sara Mui in the ABA Journal.
What does that have to do with me?
What services or products do you offer that you could carve some away to help those who are helping others? One food pantry organization I’m involved with also provides other services to those who are homeless.
Maybe an organization needs a bookkeeper or accountant. Maybe they need a marketing person. Be creative. Your local food pantry might have a garden that needs tending. Look at your skills and see what you can offer.
Why pro bono?
Let’s get the selfish stuff out of the way. Pro bono is a great way to get some eyeballs on your company. It’s good for networking (many of the people on non-profit boards run their own companies or are in a position to hire or recommend someone like you). You’re promoting yourself and your company by giving back. If you’re lucky, you’ll have some free rein to do some fun creative work. This is a good opportunity to create some pieces that will make your portfolio look good. Never do it at the expense of the organization’s marketing objectives or branding, though.
You have a skill that others need, and considering how much you’re probably charging your other clients, perhaps the least you can do is offer your services to someone truly in need. Besides, think of all the warm fuzzies you will have when you’re done, because you did something for the greater good. Sometimes those warm fuzzies will have to be generated from within, because you won’t get it from the people you’re helping. You don’t do good for the praise, do you?
Crunch the numbers and see if it’s feasible
You still have bills to pay, so decide if you can afford to take on a pro bono client. Several designers I know take on one pro bono client a year, so they don’t get spread too thin.
I have one pro bono client who gets my services for free, and another one who’s been with me for a while who gets a reduced rate. I throw in free services occasionally. Unless it’s a tiny project, that’s the limit of my pro bono work.
I just built a free website for a client and had considerable creative license. In return, he was very generous in the amount of time I had to create it (I asked for this), because I was fitting it into my paid production schedule. I got to try something I hadn’t done before, so I got the learning experience and something I’ll be happy to add to my portfolio.
How to behave
Get a contract, even if you’re working for free. Copyright has to be released in writing, and the contract protects both you and the client from any craziness that can pop up. Best to lay out expectations for both parties, like (trying) to only deal with one decision maker. Put it in the contract.
Don’t complain about the client to others (see the next section). It’s unprofessional. It’s hard, I know. You’re doing all this work for a song, and they’re just so ungrateful, huh? Have a sit-down with them and work it out. There is absolutely nothing wrong in letting the client know the value of the work you’re doing, but don’t be arrogant about it.
I have been known to say to the client, “I’m doing this for free. Let’s not make the designer crazy.” This usually happens when one person tells you to do something, another has you change it, and another has you change it back. Really try to deal with only one person in the organization.
Give the client your best efforts, but understand they’re still the client, and they don’t have to like or accept what you’ve given them. Treat them like you would your regular clients. Plus, acting like an idiot doesn’t help with your selfish reasons for doing good.
The downside of pro bono
Despite your best effort to only deal with one person. Despite promises made at the contract signing, decisions are made by committee in nonprofits. Everyone on the committee needs to feel invested in the project. If you can’t or won’t do something they’re asking for, or their request is ill-advised, have a good explanation ready.
It may take forever for the committee to make decisions. It’s the nature of the beast. They only get together so often. You can impress upon them how this will affect their deadlines, and encourage them to have more-frequent interactions for this project.
Forget ego. There’s every chance that your award-winning idea will be eviscerated before it ever leaves the room. It happens. At which point you ask yourself what your motive for helping is.
Alas, Jeff Fisher, in “Profiting from Pro Bono Creative Efforts,” writes, “Unfortunately, our friends at the Internal Revenue Service don’t see a great deal of value in the gifting of time, talent or services. The Internal Revenue Service states: ‘Contributions you cannot deduct at all include the value of your time or services. Although you cannot deduct the value of your time or services, you can deduct the expenses you incur while donating your services to a qualified organization.'”
They may forget to say thanks. ‘Nuff said. Do it anyway.
Some of my fondest memories (and some of the darkest) are of some pro bono work I’ve done, and I’ve even made some friends. I would do it all again. Keep your ears open for an organization in your area that can use a helping hand. Let it be you. It’s good for your soul.
If you want a designer and marketer who is committed to giving back to the community, give me a call and let’s talk.