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Pro bono: should we always say yes?

January 30, 2012

Pro bono tua... mors mea!

Yesterday I talking to an illustrator friend of mine when the topic of our chat shifted onto the opportunity to work pro bono. My friends began to curse the moment he took up a pro bono project for no profit organization and went into details, describing how the virtuos relationship was slowly turning into a working hell.

The more he talked and the more my mind was recalling similar situations that I had to go through personally… endless rounds of drafts, very last minute corrections, change of style and absurd requests…

Let’s try to be clear: pro bono </em. Is the contraction of pro bono pubblico, that in Latin means for the good of the community, originally the locution pro bono was used to indicate those projects that agencies or free lancers took up for free because they were destined to a good cause – think of a school, or a foundation or a museum.

Unfortunately, especially with the lingering of the recession, the approach to pro bono extended and it is quite easy to be asked for a pro bono even when the good cause is anything but public.

I personally live pro bono projects with alternate feelings: there are times when I accept them with no problem at all and times when I try to stay away from them as much as I can.

I guess a lot depends on the kind of the client and on e kind of the project.

Once you are sure that accepting to work for free will not jeopardize your finance, once you are certain that the cause is truly worthy, the criterium to accept or to not a pro bono IS the client.

Not all the clients have the sensitivity to handle a pro bono project. This is usually due to the thing that they normally ignore the dynamics of these projects – if they would, everything would be so easier.

if you are thinking to ask an agency or a free lance to work for free, ask yourself these two simple questions:

  • is the cause really good?
  • will e project bring mutual advantages?

    And you should be able to answer YES to both questions before beginning to ask around.

    Ok, you eventually found an agency, you met them and the project is about to begin… Here some advices to help you not become the Terror of the Pro bono. You don’t want that, you want that your project is successful and that in a future you can still count on some helping hand… for free!

  • Open your world to the designers, let them know how fundamental is their work for you and how much you appreciate their support and their commitment to your cause,
  • don’t mock misery, once agreed, you don’t need to look pathetict only because you are not paying a fee. Explain clearly which are the financial difficulties that your organization have, explain how hard is to work for a no profit company or for school board or for your movement, be patient while they show their solutions, be kind even if you don’t like what you see.
  • be clear!, set up an agenda and goals to achieve, exactly as if you were working on a paid project and don’t forget that on the other side the effort is even bigger since it is given for free
  • be nice when you reject a solution but don’t waste anybody’s time, If what you are shown doesn’t match your desires or expectations don’t hesitate to say no, but be nice and do it on properly, don’t beat around the bush, wasting your and the agency’s time.
  • don’t bid,only work with one agency or free lance at the time.
  • be prompt in indicating mandatory elements but don’t overdo.
  • leave the creatives free, the value in a pro bono for the designer is the publicity they can get once the project is complete, if they cannot be creative, they won’t get any benefi.
  • don’t be obsessive
  • ask for the highest care of details la cura dei dettagli, the fact that the project is a pro bono does not mean that is a second class job,
  • allow times that are longer than the usual, give more time to the designers – the fact that they are working for free may force them to do that during weird hours.
  • give the agency public credits and copies crediti e copie
  • do not hesitate to promote the people who worked for you
  • Maybe you won’t become the the king of the pro bono, but people will keep getting your calls and help you for the next… good cause.

    1. Hi, i read your blog from time to time and i own a similar one
      and i was just wondering if you get a lot of spam comments?
      If so how do you protect against it, any plugin or
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      • Hi, no, not really, I must say that askimet works quite fine for me (it comes with WordPress when you open a blog.


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