Pro Bono Projects
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People turn to freelancing for a variety of reasons, but they become professional freelancers with one primary goal in mind: earning a living. Still, not everything is about money, and there are cases where you might decide to offer your services for free or at a reduced price to worthy clients. The common term for this is work done pro bono publico, which in Latin means “for the public good”, and is usually shortened to pro bono. While it is most often associated with time donated by professionals such as lawyers and doctors, pro bono work has applicability to freelancers as well.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when considering this option.
Pro bono freelancing work is most often done for charities or individuals who are in need. As the person donating time, you can decide to do pro bono work for whomever you want. Some freelancers, for example, might discount a bid for a job being done for a religious organization, while others may not feel comfortable doing this. Certain freelancers have been known to give discounts based on age, on geographical location, or even to give a break to someone who’s had a bad past experience with a freelancing project.
While the decision is ultimately yours, I urge you to be selective. Unless you are independently wealthy, you cannot afford to give away your services to a large number of clients. Learn to differentiate between those who are truly in need and those who are just being cheap. Most companies that claim they cannot afford to pay market rates for work are just looking to drive down the value of bids.
Also, let me be explicit in saying that I don’t condone pro bono work that is self-serving. Doing work for someone in exchange for a positive review is not only not doing good, it’s a corruption of the online freelancing system. Doing pro bono work in anticipation of future paid work or other consideration is nearly always a bad idea.
If you do work for free or at a reduced cost for a client once, you may find that he or she becomes “hooked” and expects you to do it again and again. In some cases, the client may even tell associates about you, and you could find yourself being asked to do more reduced-cost work than you feel is appropriate.
It can be very difficult to manage these situations. You have to balance your desire to do good and to be fair, with the fact that you too still have to earn a living. I can’t give you any specific guidelines on how to do this: you’ll have to play it by ear. But always keep in mind that donating your time or effort once does not imply an obligation to do it a second time, much less to do it in perpetuity.
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