By Erin Dalpini
Whether early on in your writing career or later down the line, if you’re good at what you do and people begin to notice, it’s likely the time will come when you’ll be faced with this dilemma: to pro bono or not to pro bono?
That is the question.
Perhaps the noble ring of a pro bono gig sounds enticing or maybe you’d rather jump off a cliff than sign on for that “sea of troubles.” (Anyone catch that Hamlet reference?) Here’s a handy rundown of things to keep in mind if you ever encounter a pro bono request . . .
First, let’s be sure we have the definition of pro bono squared away: a Latin phrase, pro bono means “for the good” and is commonly used to describe work done for no payment for the good of the public. Although lawyers are well known for their pro bono services, it’s plausible any professional can provide pro bono services to those who simply cannot afford them. An example of freelance pro bono work might be writing up a monthly email newsletter for the cash-strapped nonprofit animal shelter in your neighborhood.
Freelance pro bono writing, however, is quite a hot topic. Why? Well, most speculate that’s because in the professional realm, a good amount of freelance writers are still paid pretty poorly for their services, therefore many writers refuse to do it on principle.
So why do pro bono writing at all? A few compelling reasons . . .
* It’s a great way to get your name out there. When you’re just starting out or returning to work, freelance pro bono writing—as long as it’s for a credible source—can be a nice addition to your portfolio.
*It might help you make connections. Assuming your client was impressed, your good work for this particular organization could lead to another paying project, as word of mouth travels fast.
*If the pro bono assignment is for something you believe in or an organization or individual you care for very much, it can be intrinsically rewarding to share your talents for the good of the public. Perhaps the subject matter is one that you’re passionate about—that’s a great reason to sign on as well. To quote Sheryl Crow, “If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad . . .”
And now the counterarguments . . .
*Time = Money. You’re giving up other paying gigs to do this one. ’Nuff said.
*Be wary of the size and scope of the project. If expectations aren’t managed on both sides of the project, you could end up doing more work than you originally planned. At what point does this pro bono job become too labor intensive? Communication is key.
*Some writers say that professionals should never give away their work for free, especially in a business arena that doesn’t always give credit where credit is due. Are you undermining your worth in taking this project? Only you can answer that.
Bottom line: Only sign up for a pro bono freelance project when you know full well what you’re getting yourself into, and ultimately, what you’ll be getting out of it. If you feel confident that the time and energies you’ll be committing to this project have some added value, go for it. If you’re feeling hesitant or obligated to help, that’s not a good sign—just say, “Sorry, I can’t.”
Like this advice? Want to hear more? Visit www.freelance-zone.com where you can find tons of information on how to “work smarter, not harder”.