So you get the opportunity to work with a super stellar international nonprofit that is doing amazing things, but they don’t have a budget for photography. Should you do the work for free?
I know I am not the only person who has ever been tempted by this situation. All you really need is a few guidelines in place to help you make the best decision for yourself and your business.
Are You the Only Person Working for Free?
Only take pro-bono work when 95% percent of the organization’s staff is voluntary. If everyone else is being paid a salary for the value they add, then you should be too.
Limit the Number of Free Projects You Take
You aren’t making any money from this project. As a business professional you need to limit the amount of time that you spend working for free. I take two projects per year. This helps me to be choosy about the type of projects that I accept. I really need to love what the organization is doing in order to get involved.
What Does It Do for You?
I know this sounds selfish but you should only take pro-bono projects that do something for you. Build up a portfolio in an area where you’d like to work. Try out some video on a nonpaying client before you unleash your skills on the world. You need to be motivated to do the work beyond just charity or you might resent it later. Most important of all, you need to own the copyright for all the images or product. You won’t be paid for your services, so the images should be yours to do with what you will.
Be Clear About Your Time & Deliverables
If you’ve agreed to do a pro-bono project, I guarantee that scope creep will occur and a small project will balloon into a major time suck. You’ll agree to photograph an amazing project on clean water for children and on the way to the shoot you’ll be asked to do some portraits of the head of party or photograph their sister medical project. You want to stop this before it occurs.
Treat your pro-bono clients just like your paying ones. Draw up a contract. Be specific about how much time you will spend shooting and editing, and what their deliverables will be.
Educate Your Client
On the day I deliver the final photos to my probono clients, I show them the photos and explain how I think the images can best be utilized on their website or annual reports. I also give them an invoice so they can understand the value of what I have just given them. I want to show them how photography and visual story telling will benefit them in the long run. I want them to see the value of what photographers can do for them.
I never do more than one pro-bono project per organization, as I don’t want to create a dependency of free photography. And I hope that by following my guidelines and educating my clients I’m laying the groundwork for the organization to hire photographers in the future.
What are some of your rules when working for free??