from “Children in Manila Bay – March 27, 2011” photo by Wally Revelar, Jr.
No, this isn’t another anti-spec post, nor is the religion part meant to arouse controversy. This is about we designers using our skills for pro bono (publico) work and on working unpaid for charity, for charity’s sake. So do settle down and hear me out.
As designers new to the field, we are encouraged (and I give the same advice too) to consider taking on pro bono projects to build up our portfolios, gain experience and expertise. This is sound advice since we do have to start somewhere. But what of later, when our portfolios are more or less “complete” and we manage to get paid work constantly? Are we still just as willing to work for free as we were when starting out? Or do we do free work hoping that sooner or later, it will become paid?
I recently came across some advice regarding pro bono and charity work. I couldn’t help raising my eyebrows because it seemed to me that the main purpose for giving away design business for free was to gain possibly paying clients through networking and to gain publicity. Whatever happened to working for the public good for the sake of public service? Or doing charity work simply for the sake of charity? How about “…when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing…” (Matt. 6:3, NIV)?
I am a Christian but I am not religious — that term now has negative connotations. But if we talk religion, this is what it is: “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” (James 1:27, NLT). Although indirectly, by voluntarily using our design skills for charity and non-profit work, we can actually practice this pure and genuine religion.
I had the privilege of meeting 2009 CNN Hero of the Year, Efren Peñaflorida last year. Kuya Ef is a humble and selfless educator and what he said in his acceptance speech is worth repeating: “Serve, serve well, serve others above yourself and be happy to serve. As I always tell to my co-volunteers … you are the change that you dream, as I am the change that I dream, and collectively we are the change that this world needs to be.”
I hold in great respect, volunteers like Kuya Ef (Dynamic Teen Company), Subrat Goswami (Aham Bhumika) and those thousands of others who give away their time and skills for unpaid, usually unrecognized hard work. For those of us working in the comfort of our homes and desks, it shouldn’t be too hard to likewise lend our skills unselfishly and without “ulterior” motives. Why not simply do charity for charity’s sake? Or if we had to be selfish, then perhaps do it for that sense of fulfillment we get from doing good.
Making it work
Admittedly, it can be hard to volunteer our time and skills for such worthy endeavors. But we can make this all work out if we choose wisely which ones to help. Not all non-profits are really that, and not all charities are charitable. We choose those that fit our values and those with whom we can actually have a good working relationship. We also should make sure to appropriately charge our paying clients what we are worth to them. Doing this frees us of selfish motives and allows us to take on non-profit work without thinking of financial reward or business development.
I just had to let that out. So how about you, what’s your take on designing or working pro bono? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Please share them in the comments.