Blog . "Pro Bono" or Not to "Pro Bono"
Someone used the term, Pro Bono in a conversation with me a few days ago. Now I’d never heard the phrase—so excuse me if I’m down on lingo—but the words drew a high amount of significance to what I was receiving. This is a topic not necessarily discussed in my circle of designers, because well, the point of starting a career is to make money. All of my colleagues think in terms of profit, but tell me something, is it not rewarding to just do something for someone? I mean, just do things without expecting something in return? It absolutely is, and it works the same in design. Working for free doesn’t mean you won’t get compensated. You just have to view the outcome a little differently. I guess the question is, “How does working Pro Bono help your career as a designer?”
We’re of course talking about a field in which professionals advance by networking and having projects to show for it. I would say the latter is distinctively important, because with nothing in your portfolio, how can cliental trust your vision and instincts? Here’s where the idea of going Pro Bono seems necessary. There are opportunities out there, but the issues appear when clients aren’t ready to fork over the cash. Now, take what I’m about to say with a light heart. Do the job. If it’s for a respectable company, and they reflect your vision as a designer, ask if they’ll let you do the job for free. In this case, opportunity is a win-win, and can likely work well with a lot of non-profits or start ups. Just be careful on who you do this for, and even though it’s free, you need to still make a contract. That way you can establish deadlines and revisions all the same. The outcome is that now you have something nice in your portfolio. You can use that to show potential paying clients and they can now see what it is you have to offer.
Don’t always let money be the driving force of your experience. There will come a time where you’ll have to choose between a great opportunity without pay, and a mediocre, short-term one with pay. You be the judge. I’d advise you to consider your portfolio’s body of work when deciding on which to choose. If the Pro Bono job offers more experience and a better portfolio piece, take it.
QUICK TIP: Choosing clients who you can be proud to speak about is important for your career. Don’t just pick up projects, because someone is willing to pay. Choose your opportunities in the same way clients will choose you, with caution.