To Work or Not to Work….for Free?

Deposit slip by Post Typography

Last week our Process and Skills class read a NYT editorial from a couple of years ago titled Slaves of the Internet, Unite!”  by Tim Kreider.

The writer’s basic premise was that working for free is a scourge on the creative professions. People who wouldn’t have the nerve to ask a barber for a free hair cut or a dentist for a free cleaning, have no trouble asking a writer, designer or illustrator to do work for free. How are we supposed to make a living or earn the respect of other professional service providers if we work for free?

It’s long been a tough question to answer and he not wrong for wanting an answer. But pro bono work–which is different than spec work, which we’ll cover in a separate post–is a personal decision based on many factors like the assignment is interesting or challenging to you; or it’s for a close friend or family member; or the assignment is in service to a cause or organization that you believe in. While I am a strong advocate for being paid for the work we do, I do however participate in pro bono assignments.

Aside from the factors I’ve outlined above, I have three criteria that must be met before I will accept a project for no fee. First, I have to have complete control over the process. Give me the problem and I will hand you back the solution. Second, don’t try to rush me. Come to me with enough time to get it done on my schedule. And lastly, and this is the big one…NO COMMITTEES. I deal with one person and it is that person’s job to make sure that my work is accepted and used as is. if that doesn’t happen, I’m out.

While I absolutely believe in being paid for work, especially when it has value to the person or organization who requested the work, I think a hard and fast rule not to take on pro bono work is a hard rule to uphold. Approached in the right way, with protections and perks for the creator, pro bono work can be a rewarding complement to your everyday assignments. If you’re faced with a project that interests you but cannot pay, set up your own parameters for a successful experience and give it a try.

Image by: Post Typography for the New York Times


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