Side jobs with a full-time job?

I have a full-time graphic design job and work in-house with a non-profit. The non-profit is connected to a community of people with shared interests and sometimes I get asked about doing work for their individual projects or companies. I’m not interested in doing freelance work right now, so I politely let them know that. However, I wonder whether I’m under any obligation to disclose to my employer that I’m taking side work (especially if it’s with someone that they know). I know that sometimes taking side work can be considered a “conflict of interest” but I’m not really sure when this applies. Does anyone have any wisdom and experience to share about the etiquette of taking side work when you have a full-time job? Many thanks!

Until three years ago, when my side projects became my full-time thing, I spent my entire career working for various employers and doing various after-work projects. However, I was careful not to let those projects overlap with my employer’s business.

For example, if a client or potential client of my employer offered me work, I wouldn’t take it. Other side projects that had no connection to my employer were another matter. In those instances, I figured it was none of my employer’s business what I did in my free time as long as it didn’t affect them in any way.

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Does your work contract with the non-profit say anything regarding this? That would be the authoritative word.

An example of conflict of interest would be if the non-profit tasked you with creating fundraising materials. You do that and you do a great job. Someone in the community sees it and says they loved it and it’s exactly what they need, and can you do the same thing for their non profit. Possibly so they can target the same donors. If someone is doing something that affects your non profit employers ability to succeed at their own goals, then yeah, anything you do will probably be a conflict of interest.

It’s not just actual conflicts of interest you have to worry about. It’s “perceived” conflicts as well. Some employers are very possessive of your free time. If you are working for someone else it’s a reminder to them that you have prospects and there are other places you could be. You could pick up and leave without warning.

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Then maybe they should pay you better?

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I’ve turned down employment at places that think they own my free time. A significant part of my earnings always came from my after-hours work, so for an employer to get me to agree to not doing outside work would require them to boost my salary to match.

I also have a philosophical disagreement with employers who think they have any say over what I do outside of the time they’re paying me to work. As I mentioned, it’s none of their business, so I never mentioned it to them unless there was a conflict of interest that I wanted to clear with them.

Then again, for someone working at a company like that, yeah, it’s a consideration, but if it were me, I’d be looking for a new job.

Thank you for the nuanced responses @Just-B and @Mojo! There’s certainly nothing about that in my contract. And while I wouldn’t be concerned about taking unrelated work that they are unaware of, it may be in my interest not to take work from people who are part of my boss’s network it sounds like. Especially if they might be competing for the same funding, which is possible.

That’s a good way of looking at it.