How We Choose Pro-Bono Work

November 16, 2015 | Business, Design Basics, Recent Work

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As a designer, I am frequently asked to donate design, web design or marketing services to non-profits and other organizations. I can’t say “yes” to everyone, and here are my reasons for choosing the groups that I work with.

1. I believe in the group’s mission

This is the most important reason for me to want to donate my time and expertise.

If I want to support a non-profit, I may find that doing pro-bono work is the most valuable contribution I can make. The value of what I can give by providing pro-bono design work is usually far greater than what I could donate monetarily. So it can be a great “win” for both of us.

This is also why I have never donated my time to a group where my first encounter with the organization is them reaching out to me for free design work. You may be surprised how many inquiries I get from organizations who ask me me if I could design a logo, poster, invitation or even a web site for their group.

I always get involved with a group first—because I am interested in their mission—and then decide how I will participate, and at what level.

2. My design work will make a difference

Bids 4 Kids Logo and InvitationI volunteer with many different groups. I only donate design work to a few.

Most organizations and events could benefit from a professional logo design, printed marketing or web site. And I like to choose ones where great design can really impact things.

This logo and invitation I designed for Bids 4 Kids is a great example. It is the fundraising auction for my daughter’s elementary school PTO.

I knew that having a great and memorable logo would really make this event’s marketing efforts easier. There’s a lot of paperwork that comes home in your child’s backpack and most of it is boring worksheets and school memos. Having something that was professionally designed and colorful would help it stand out. We’ve also decided to keep using the same logo for several years so that people remember the event and we aren’t trying to build and promote a new identity every year.

Sometimes, I know that the most valuable thing I can do is continue to offer my time in other ways. For example, I’m an organizer of House of Genius. But I give my time as a business coach and organizer. Traditional design and marketing is not a big issue for this group.

Other times, the other organization already has a designer they work with—either pro-bono or paid—and I am able to volunteer hours or expertise in other ways.

Finally, there are some people out there who just don’t value design. I won’t do any pro-bono design work under those circumstances.

3. I never go in with expectations about what I’ll get out

Many organizations that approach me try to sell me on the idea that I’ll get great exposure from the design work I’ll do for them.

First of all, that’s pretty bogus. But more importantly, I want to do something that will help an organization that I support, regardless of what Visible Logic gets from it.

4. The people are great to work with

Having cooperative, appreciative people to work with is what seals the deal. Nothing makes me feel more put out than being micro-managed on a volunteer design job. I have (former) clients (and old bosses) for that, thank you very much.

I understand that things can get tense, especially with printer deadlines approaching. But there are some people who manage to keep it light, and others that just can’t.

I will treat your deadlines as real deadlines and never let you down, if I feel that we’re all in this together for the greater good.

5. The work is fun!

Finally, the work needs to feel fun or rewarding for me to want to pile it on, on top of my regular client work.

I crave work that I can immerse myself in. As a designer, there are some projects that are fun to work on. It may be the medium (printed invitation, web site, etc.) or it may be the theme of the event. But I need to feel that right mix of challenge and reward as I work on a pro-bono design project.

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