How to get paid for volunteering (part 2)

In Part 1 last week, Laurel talked about how to choose which projects to do “pro bono” and how to do them in a professional manner. In part 2, she talks about how to train a non-profit to be a good client, and answers some questions from last week’s commenters, such as, “How exactly do you invoice?” and “What kind of guidelines should be put in place?”

As with paying work, sometimes the best of intentions go awry. Laurel BlackThat is often because even though you have thoroughly documented the value of your services, some people still assume that once the price tag is canceled out, so is the value. Here are two instances when all the preparation and well-laid plans will not keep a pro bono situation from becoming problematic.

When It Looks like the Karma is Going Sideways

Sometimes, in spite of all your explanations about the limitations of your donation, you’ll be faced with the expectation that you will keep plugging away at the project until “everyone is happy with it.” When that occurs, you can do one of two things. You can call a come-to-Jesus meeting and refer the client to your original agreement, reminding them that an offer of donated services is not the same thing as indentured slavery.

Your proposal notwithstanding, because they are so devoted to their cause, they may have no idea that they are making unreasonable demands (if they do, keep reading.) This is another opportunity to demonstrate your professionalism and train your non-profit how to be a good client. Whether this is possible depends on the individual circumstances.

The alternative is to look at the repercussions of bailing vs. sucking it up and finishing the project. It could be that the PR fallout from not finishing would be worse than not having done the project at all. Either way, this situation requires a judgment call on your part. Since all situations are different, you will have to decide what it is worth to you, whether you draw a hard line or see it through to the end.

When It Looks like the Karma is Going South

Not all non-profits are ethically squeaky clean. Recognize when your benefactees may be sliding towards exploiting you. This can happen for a number of reasons: when a non-profit is starting up because someone is trying to create a job at no cost to himself; when the board has no respect for anyone’s time or abilities but their own; or the executive director, ditto.

It’s up to you to see when this is happening and deal with it in a way that is not damaging to your business.  No cause is worth feeling used and resentful. But even if the group you volunteered for turns out to be less than ideal, you did a good job, you made new connections, and now you can return refreshed to your regular clients.

Weasels Are the Exception, Not the Norm

The vast majority of people and groups are wonderful. Besides the chance to make meaningful and satisfying connections, volunteering offers opportunities to expand your knowledge and skills in ways that are not always available to a small business. In volunteering, the very least you will gain is getting to know some great people, and the knowledge that you have used your talents to make the world better.

2 thoughts on “How to get paid for volunteering (part 2)

  1. Jim K

    I just bought your “Freelancer” package while graduating this spring. I’m a disabled 55 yr. old toolmaker, forced out of my trade by injuries. After testing, GD was on the top 3 for the list my state DVR allowed me to pursue a degree in. I love it and want to live an breath it for the rest of my life.
    My problem is that the State DVR will not allow me to do the next step as I think is the best bet. Instructors and professionals have told me to go work in the field as an ’employee’ for a few years to get the connections and feel for how things go. Due to my physical limits, I can’t do that. I must work from home, as a freelance, and from the way things go around town,(Milwaukee) there’s so much competition, I’d need to be flawless to even set up my business, also requiring a ton of work that I don’t know I can produce. What’s the next best thing to do if I can’t set up ‘non-profit’?
    Jim Katorski

  2. Laurel Black

    Hi Jim –
    It is usually true that it is best to establish connections and a professional network to use as a springboard when going out on your own as an independent business. Otherwise you have to start from ground zero and that can take a long time. I did not have a network in place when I started and it was a long haul, especially since there was no internet then. However, you could use volunteering as a way to build a professional network (and your post-student portfolio). You don’t have to go around town to do this – you could connect with organizations online (as you have here). Your current disability situation, combined with your up-to-date skills and your love of design, might make you especially well qualified to create compelling communication pieces for certain types of non-profits. And I highly recommend the services of Marketing Mentor – I believe Ilise is one of the smartest and most useful marketing coaches for creatives available. And keep checking into this blog – there are many very smart people who contribute, and we all are facing challenges of one sort or another. Professional isolation is depressing and can be a roadblock to success. This is a great place to learn and share about issues with like-minded people who get what you’re up against. So if any of the rest of you have suggestions for Jim, please chime in.