Before Christmas I decided to offer my design services for free.
Now, working for free is a highly contentious issue in the creative industry and something I would not generally do, but I believe that sometimes it has a place - I’m certainly not the only designer who has ever chosen to do ‘pro bono’ work for a charity.
However, I’ll be honest, it is something I embarked on without a massive amount of consideration, which is quite unusual for me. I think because it just felt like the right time to try and do something good, which would help others... and I wanted to get on with it before I changed my mind (there’s always reasons not to do things, right?)
The process of starting the ball rolling on this has already been quite a learning curve, so I thought it would be useful to document the ‘working for good/for free’ journey, for anyone else considering a similar path.
For the last couple of years I have tried to focus my design and illustration work in areas that most interest me. Generally my clients are ‘people doing good things’ which is admittedly quite a vague phrase, but usually means they’ll be a small to medium business, social enterprise or charity doing some kind of positive work - this could be related to the environment, health or learning, or be something creative… to name a few examples.
I thought it would be nice to be able to offer my time/skills to an organisation just starting out, or one that’s small & wanting to grow - essentially a charity who wouldn’t ordinarily be able to afford professional design input, but who could definitely use it!
I decided to offer the option of a new visual identity, as I think that of all the types of design or illustration project I work on this would be likely to have the most longevity, and can form a solid base on which to build in the future.
My aim is really to give a small charity a step up...
To help improve their presence, and professional appearance
To help them gain ‘cut through’ and the awareness of others, which should impact on fundraising and the promotion of their services
To give the staff/volunteers at that charity a greater confidence to get out there and do more of what they do best
Motivation - What's in it for me?
The idea came from a genuine wish to use my skills to help a charity who may not otherwise be able to afford such work. Anything additional to that remains to be seen…
Once I’ve completed the work I would hope to put it on my website, and publicise through social media, as I would for any other project, and there will be some blog posts like this one. I guess it could be said there will be an element of self promotion because of that, but I think that’s fair enough, and not my main motivation.
And of course, the ‘feel good’ factor, achieved from doing something positive - the reason why anyone would volunteer their time or services, in any capacity.
Who to help / Finding the right charity
I have done pro bono work before, for Baby Bank when they were starting up. In that instance, Becky Gilbert, one of the founders knew my work and approached me to ask if I could help them with their identity. At the time, I had some availability and liked the sound of what they were doing, so was happy to help.
Many charities have budgets for marketing and design, I’m not looking to do free work for an organisation who could afford to pay for it.
I think if an organisation or individual has the money to pay for something, but gets it for free, there is a likelihood for them to undervalue the work/product - the mentality of thinking they could have had something better if they’d paid for it OR ‘well if we don’t like it, we can always ditch it and get something else…’
The concept of something being ‘Reassuringly expensive’ and ‘If it’s free, it's generally not very good?’
I value my time, and the idea of giving it away for free, when it could have been paid for, or could have been used for something else, just doesn’t feel right. I’m offering my services with all best intentions, not to feel exploited and that my time could have been better spent.
The idea of giving time to help an organisation do more and reach more people feels valuable to me - I certainly hope that the design work produced will be of value for the selected charity.
Boxes to tick in choosing a charity
• Small or start-up charity, local to me.. in the Bristol area
• A worthwhile cause, for which I have an affinity to
• Currently with a poor or non-existing visual identity
• Open to having a new logo/brand
Things that could be a problem
1. What if no-one takes me up on my offer? (Or if I’m inundated!)
2. How to choose which charity to help?
3. A realisation that many small charities who have a logo/brand in place might not want it changed as this would have repercussions for existing materials/website etc
It’s always important to ask questions, in this instance to be clear on the position and the stage the organisation are at, and what would potentially be most useful for them at this time. For example, it may not be a new logo, but implementing what they have already?
4. How to know if the charity could afford to pay for a re-brand?
This is tricky to know for sure, but I did broach the subject of finances with the charities who got in touch with me. Also, I found out it’s possible to check out finance reports for charities on the Charity Commission website which helps gauge the sort of financial levels a charity is operating at.
5. Finding the time to do the work around other projects which are being paid for
I plan to schedule time in to work on this project. It will need to fit in around other projects, but I don’t want it to take a back seat.
6. Defining exactly how much work would be undertaken, rather than feeling like an unlimited resource
7. Conflict with existing or potential charity clients who pay for the work I do
I would hope that these clients value the work I do for them, and can appreciate that the ‘free work’ offer is not a sustainable one, that I could do for everyone.
Getting the word out
There were retweets, likes and comments. It’s hard to know if the posts I put out there were far reaching enough, but I’d say I had a reasonable, and positive response.
My Selected Charity
This wasn’t a competition. My measure was simply to find a charity who I felt would be the most suitable for my design help, at this time.
I had a number of organisations get in touch with me - They could be counted on 2 hands, so not loads but all worthwhile, and for a range of different causes. Additional to this, there were some suggestions from people I know through various networks etc.
I reviewed each charity by looking at their website, asking questions where necessary and then really just went with my instinct....
I have decided to work with the Survive, a Bristol/South Gloucestershire charity who provide support for children and young people affected by domestic violence.
Survive are not a new charity, they have been operating since 1974, but they are at a significant turning point. Until last year they provided specialist services for adults as well as children, but for various reasons (including funding) their focus now is purely on children & young people.
With this shift in focus, Sarah Telford, CEO of Survive told me:
“We are aware that our branding, logo and colour scheme isn’t fit for purpose now. Whilst we want to retain our name due to its excellent reputation and awareness in the domestic abuse field, we need our designs to be more child focussed.”
I met up with Sarah this week, for an initial discussion on the work I could do for them. It feels like we are potentially a really good fit - me for them, as well as them meeting the criteria of what I was looking for. I’m excited to start working with them to develop a new identity for a very worthwhile cause.
Once the project is complete I plan to document any aspects of providing pro bono work, the pitfalls and positives as I see them… So keep an eye on my blog & social media feeds for that.
In the meantime, if you’re a designer who has previously done similar unpaid work for a charity, I’d be really interested to hear any thoughts or advice you’d like to pass on.
UPDATE: JUNE 2018
Shortly after I scheduled to start work on the new identity for Survive, Sarah Telford contacted me to let me know that the organisation’s future was very much in the balance. There were serious questions over funding and they were unsure whether Survive would be able to continue. Taking this situation into consideration, she asked me to put my design work on hold.
Unfortunately, as of the end of April 2018, Survive did in fact close, bringing to an end 44 years of dedicated service in the domestic abuse field. The services they offered have now been transferred over to Julian House who continue the work of Survive in delivering a specialist service for children and young people in South Gloucestershire.
So, my commitment to doing some pro bono design work for a charity didn’t quite work out and came to an end without fruition. At the time I had become busy with other projects and so the whole idea went off the boil… However this is something I would still like to do, and remains on the back burner for when another suitable time and opportunity crops up.