Pro bono work – usually a professional service delivered free of charge – is a seductive proposition for businesses and even more so for non-profit organisations. In this article we’re going to take a balanced look at what pro bono design services might mean for your charity, and how you can get the best from what’s on offer.
There are plenty of reasons to get work done free of charge. Obviously the biggest point in favour of pro bono web design is that you don’t actually pay for it. This is a given, so we won’t cover it in any detail, but let’s have a look at some of the other reasons why you might consider services on gratis.
You’ll (hopefully) be working with an ethical web design company ?
Pro bono work is not all about corporate social responsibility. There are plenty of website designers who simply want to feel a sense of giving back to their community, or to focus on an issue that’s close to them. It is important to recognise this, as a charity, because you want to work with people who genuinely care about what you do and aren’t simply looking for an exercise in box-checking. You can tell a lot about a person by their values, so don’t be afraid to have that informal conversation to find out what makes them tick.
You might be helping a fledgling business ?
The mutual benefits of pro bono work mean that if you hire a professional to work for you, you’re probably benefiting them in some other non-monetary way. For example, a new company may be looking to gain exposure in the industry, and so by working with them you are providing case studies, experience and credence. For many startups, this can be even more valuable than cash in the early days.
The designer will be enthusiastic! ?
One thing that sets pro bono work apart from paid work is that people don’t enter it for profit; they do it (in most cases) because they care about it. Yes, pro-bono work delivers ancillary business benefits but enjoyable projects always result in better work than projects where there is friction, frustration and disinterest. Find someone who wants to take on your project with genuine enthusiasm and you’ll be off to a great start.
So there are plenty of reasons for getting free web design for your charity. But, as with anything in life, this route is not without its risks. Pro-bono work is a mixed picture, and here we’ll go through some of the reasons you may choose to avoid it.
You may be missing out on paid privileges ?
When all is said and done, money speaks loudest. It is not cynical to suggest that pro bono work can result in a lower quality service. Paying clients will ultimately come first for no other reason than business imperatives. This may not cause any problems at all, but charities should be alert to the possibility before they enter a significant pro bono contract with a web design company.
Future support may be lacking ?
A company may grant a charity a project on a pro bono basis which has a finite time or cost attached to it. This is great if you need a website building but successful websites need hosting, upkeep and maintenance. If your charity is unable or unwilling to pay for this, you may find that aftercare support is lacking. A good provider will stipulate this early on, but it may go unsaid, so make sure you ask the question.
Beware of low-skilled providers ?
Even the best intentions cannot help a provider who doesn’t cut the mustard, and as with all professions, the web design business has its fair share of people who aren’t equipped to deliver. This is not a criticism per se – we all must start somewhere – but be vigilant of who you get pro bono work from. Enthusiasm and passion does not always result in your goals being met.
Tips for hiring a pro bono website designer
Now we’ve weighed up the pros and cons, let’s take a look at some tips for hiring a pro-bono service.
✅ Find the right partner
We all do it – we hear the word “free” and we think “that’ll do!”. But this is rarely the right approach; make sure you have a meaningful conversation before taking the plunge.
✅ Treat it like a paid project
Give the project the same attention and respect as if money were changing hands. Sign a contract, agree deadlines. Any sense that the project is worth less than this will result in disaster.
✅ Enquire about follow up services
You don’t want to be left high and dry after the pro bono contract has ended. Find out explicitly what services you are entitled to in the future.
Pro bono work can be a minefield of misinformation and mistrust, but by entering into a long term partnership carefully and with good intent, great things can happen.