Is Working Pro Bono A Good Idea?

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There is something amiss in the design world. In the past decade or so, too many people are expecting designers to work for nothing or near nothing.  It comes in the form of spec work, contests and employers that do not want to pay an experienced designer and choose to go with an intern.

loving hands on  backgroundSome want to lump pro bono work in the same category. While I feel it is every person’s personal decision as to whether they are willing to work on a project for free, I personally approve of doing pro bono work from time to time. It does not have to feel like somebody is trying to steal from you. Usually, you can choose a charity that is near and dear to your heart and offer your services. The non profit is able to put money where it is truly needed such as supplies for those in need, and the designer can help them promote their organization by offering their services for free.

What Can Pro Bono Work Do For You?

  1. Take the lead on design. Most often, places in need of pro bono work let the designer have most of the input. What they can end up with is a very good portfolio piece and a great working addition on their resume.
  2. Let your design freak flag fly. Often designers can get in a rut by doing conservative work for the same client over and over again. This is a chance to stretch your mind and creativity. Not only is the opportunity in pro bono good, but by getting the creative juices flowing again, we’re able to take that back to our full time jobs and utilized some new found ideas and skills.
  3. New graduates. While pro bono is great for the seasoned designer, what about fresh out of school designers? It is an excellent way to start building their portfolios with real work as opposed to having only student work to show in your portfolio. When employers see that you have created actual marketable work, you will have a greater opportunity of landing that new job.
  4. Learn something new in your field. The pro bono project at hand might be something you have never had the opportunity to create before. Perhaps there is a need for packaging, or an unusual brochure layout. Now this could really be a star piece in your portfolio and new knowledge in your back pocket.
  5. Looking for work? OK, it can sound a little self serving, but in lieu of payment, the designer hopefully can take away SOMETHING from the experience. What a great way to have a current item for your resume for prospective employers. And you are networking. It may not feel like a networking event in the normal sense, but you are meeting new people, and people know other people. If they liked working with you and thought you did a great job, it can lead to more work or a full time job. Say that you take on some pro bono work for the Red Cross. Well it is a fairly large organization. Chances are somebody knows someone who is looking for a great dependable designer
  6. Gain respect. While the spec work gremlins out there do not seem to have any respect for designers, charities will always be grateful for you and your skills.
  7. Feel good for doing it. No strings attached. You will do better if you do not expect anything in return. Sometimes it is just the right thing to do.

probonoEven AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts), the professional association for design, has there own area for non profits to advertise for pro bono work. Working for charity doesn’t always mean dishing in the soup kitchen.

If you cannot offer design services, what about teaching underprivileged kids or adults that need to enter the workforce some software or computer skills? There are many ways we can take our skills to those in need.

By Doing Pro Bono Work, Are We Hurting The Industry
and Setting Expectations?

Not at all. The reason is that the designers offer their services to a non profit of their choosing. Nobody is waving a fake carrot in front of their face making false promises.

I know it is hard to find time for an additional project in your busy schedule, but it can be rewarding.

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LauraMalickSmith
Laura Malick Smith is the Principal Creative at ChikenSkratch Studio (formerly Digitaldemiurge). She has over 25 years experience in design including print, web and illustration, holds a degree from the Art Institute of Colorado and has been know to enjoy a lively discussion or two.
LauraMalickSmith

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