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  • Contributing to a non-profit organization doing pro bono work

    I found a group online (Taproot Foundation) that links creative professionals to non-profit groups that need pro bono services and am considering doing work with them. They reviewed my portfolio and felt I'd be a good fit for logo/brand ID, print and web graphics work and I would provide 3-5 hours per week on a project.

    I've never done this kind of work before, but thought it was time and it would help me expand my portfolio while helping out organizations for a good cause.

    Can I expect that I would get a lot of creative freedom for projects like this? I wouldn't think I'd get heavy-handed control nuts being a pain in the ass for work being done out of the goodness of my heart.
    wieNerDog

  • #2
    Best of luck. I have nothing against non-profits, but they have been more of a constant back and forth for teeeny tweaks than paying clients. They (not all) can eat you alive.
    People tell me "Have a Good One!' Hell, I already have a good one, I just need a BIGGER one! - George Carlin

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    • #3
      I've heard people have had bad experiences doing pro bono work for non-profits before. I guess if I don't like how projects are being managed or if there's a lack of creative freedom, I would have to not contribute. I'm just hoping my good intentions don't lead to personal hell.
      wieNerDog

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      • #4
        ^^Very much agreed with Rickself!!

        Non-profit projects end up being picked to death. I would limit your pro-bono work to no more than a couple few projects a year. 3-5 hours a week, on a regular basis, is ridiculous. Personally, I do one big project a year, and that's my cap. When I'm done it, I can breathe a BIG sigh of relief, and I'm happy with what I've produced.

        As to your question on creative freedom... Yes, you will have that. But as was mentioned, it will be nitpicked and tweaked constantly back and forth.
        Not really on any creative aspects, but certainly on all copy and content.
        Ned Yeung, A.C.E.
        mediamainline.com
        cyclopsphoto.ca

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        • #5
          I won't be doing 3-5 hours every week. It's project-based, so it's limited and not 3-5 hours a week year-round. I don't have that kind of time to do free work.
          wieNerDog

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          • #6
            Originally posted by wienerdog
            I guess if I don't like how projects are being managed or if there's a lack of creative freedom, I would have to not contribute. \
            Now there's the problem. Once you've commited, you've commited. It's beyond bad form to start a pro-bono project then leave it up in the air.

            It means that the organization has trusted you to complete the project, and are then left with nothing but unmet deadlines. It is not just them that it hurts though... It is our entire industry - any designer who wishes to do pro-bono work. You see, when we put our time and effort into working for 'free', we need to have some gratification at the end. This gratification could be something *published we can put in our portfolio, it could be the consumer/media attention and networking produced, or it could just be general good will. Therefore, when we start a pro-bono project, we wish to be commissioned for it, and we want that organization to contract us (verbal or written) to this project, so we know it will be ours to complete to the end. Otherwise, what will happen is that the organizations will hire designers on spec, letting more than one designer put all their sweat and tears into the same project, and only one designer's work actually being published and used. That would be a big blow to the industry as a whole. So please... HONOR YOUR CONTRACTS, and don't allow this to happen.
            Ned Yeung, A.C.E.
            mediamainline.com
            cyclopsphoto.ca

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            • #7
              It's funn how all you hear about are the BAD pro bono work issues. You never hear about the good ones. I have done LOTS of pro bono work, never had a major issue yet... I find it to be quite self-rewarding.
              Professional Pixel Pusher Designing the world around you. | Working daily to reach 10,000 hours of practice.

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              • #8
                The majority of my pro bono, or nonprofit, working experiences have been incredibly positive. You just need to have the b*lls to set up some guidelines about how you will work with such an organization, and communicate them to the powers-that-be, when you are donating your time.

                - J.
                Jeff Fisher | Engineer of Creative Identity
                Jeff Fisher LogoMotives | Twoot! Twoot!

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                • #9
                  Aye-aye, Jeff! Everything always turns out well when ground rules are in place. No taking advantage of the volunteers...

                  And thanks for the great article!

                  FYI, I just finished a pro-bono project... Posters and T-shirts for an annual Arts and Music festival downtown. This is my second year doing this project, and I have been happy with it both times. This year was a much tighter deadline (I wish they had brought it to me sooner), and was a lot more harried, but I'm still happy with it, and happy with the results. I think the posters and shirts will look very good, and I've received a lot of positive feedback from it.
                  Ned Yeung, A.C.E.
                  mediamainline.com
                  cyclopsphoto.ca

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                  • #10
                    Hehe, our agency has nothing but non-profit clients. We do some projects pro bono, but our ad agency's niche is helping non-profits with their fundraising. Many of them are fantastic people, then there are those who can sour your outlook on charities. About like any cross-section of people I guess.

                    I can testify to the constant back-and-forth tiny changes. It seems to be the unwritten rule when dealing with these types of organizations. For many of our clients, creativity ends up taking a backseat to budget constraints.

                    It seems like the worst clients are those who haven't worked with a designer or agency before. This is particularly true if a staff member has been generating the creative output up to now. I've run into a few nightmares where the resident "expert" is resentful and wants to run the show or will intentionally make your life miserable. These are the ones that make you start questioning just how noble a charity is.

                    If possible get edits through one person. These guys are prone to design by committee, and love to suggest changes so that they feel like they have contributed.

                    Best of luck to you!

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                    • #11
                      Even with pro bono you have to use a contract.
                      And don't expect any more creative freedom than you'd get from any other client.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by PrintDriver
                        Even with pro bono you have to use a contract.
                        And don't expect any more creative freedom than you'd get from any other client.
                        Actually, I've had a 17-year relationship with one pro bono (and sometimes paid) nonprofit client and I have complete creative freedom. It's a local theatre company and it has been an incredible experience. The producer of the company has never even made a change on the 100+ logo designs I've done for him - and just minor edits on posters, programs, ads, T-shirt designs, etc. The relationship with this one client has made some of the PITA client (paid and volunteer) situations more bearable...

                        - J.
                        Jeff Fisher | Engineer of Creative Identity
                        Jeff Fisher LogoMotives | Twoot! Twoot!

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                        • #13
                          Jeff, you are right of course. I just never expected creative license from anyone. It is pleasant when it happens but you can't expect it from a pro bono any more than any other client. That community theatre is lucky to have you and most probably knows it. Of the pro bonos I've associated with, community theatres are usually the most grateful. And some of the most fun people to be around. Horrible deadlines though...
                          Last edited by PrintDriver; 06-01-2007, 11:12 PM.

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                          • #14
                            I've heard good things of Taproot. They seem to manage the projects and clients to insure that the whole thing is done in a proffessional manor (they almost behave as an agency in this respect I think). I've not signed up with them because I already do work for a couple of charities and that's enough at the moment, but I'd say they are a good avenue to go through rather than blindly picking a non profit and dealing only between you and them on your first pro bono efforts. Good luck with it!
                            at best my spelling *and grammar* is crap and at worst it are be carp

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by frankster
                              I've heard good things of Taproot. They seem to manage the projects and clients to insure that the whole thing is done in a proffessional manor (they almost behave as an agency in this respect I think). I've not signed up with them because I already do work for a couple of charities and that's enough at the moment, but I'd say they are a good avenue to go through rather than blindly picking a non profit and dealing only between you and them on your first pro bono efforts. Good luck with it!
                              Yeah, that's what I thought. It's nice to know you heard good things, and alleviates my worries about it. I felt it would be good to go with an middle-man that has my interests at heart as much as the non-profit group. The only catch is I'm in the Philly suburbs and Taproot's office is in NYC, which is only about a 1 hr train ride, and the work I'd be doing would be on my time in my home office. They just have an orientation later this month, during a weeknight, so I may just take a vacation day and head to the city that day. I figure this would be as good for my career to get some networking and exposure by doing work that is hopefully portfolio-quality for a non-profit along with doing the less creative, bill-paying work.
                              wieNerDog

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