Getting the Numbers Right

Get What You (Don't) Pay For
by Sheree Clark

Pro bono work is a two-way street. Here's how to get the most out of your partnership, no matter which side you're on.

Many, if not all, non profit organizations have suffered in recent years. During these uncertain times, charities must find effective, yet affordable ways to promote themselves and their causes. This is one reason why many designers take on projects from nonprofit clients. They recognize the opportunity to help an organization in need and create great design in the process. Because of the scarcity of resources in the nonprofit arena, it is especially important that projects are managed effectively by both the designer and the client. The nonprofit project often requires special handling to ensure objectives are achieved. Here are a few issues and cautions to explore when developing a pro bono relationship.

For designers

Pick your clients ... carefully. Before you agree to provide services to an organization, take the time to understand the philosophy of the group. You'll do better work for organizations whose beliefs are in line with your own. Many designers find that it is more satisfying to them - and more effective for the client - to choose one organization and focus on it, rather than being involved in one-time projects for a variety of groups. This gives the design firm a larger body of work - a campaign or series of materials - while also providing the nonprofit an integrated brand identity.

Work ahead. Because so much nonprofit work is done on a pro bono basis, it is typically scheduled for completion between paying projects, or is worked into the schedule on an "as we have time" basis. This may mean anticipating needs and starting projects earlier than in a typical client situation. Take time early in the relationship to develop a comprehensive list of what will be needed and when.

Collaborate. Put together a team of vendors to work on the project. Approach your service providers with a proposal for getting the project done that will allow them to say "yes" to your request for help. Pick partners with capabilities that are compatible with the projects you need help on. And remember that many of your vendors have a line-item in their budgets for charitable contributions, meaning that when the money is gone, it's gone. Plan accordingly!

Promote yourself and your client. If appropriate, put a credit line on work you do on a free or reduced-fee basis. Send media releases about the collaboration, and include visuals you have produced. Try to get media attention for both of you. Don't forget to enter your non profit work into design competitions - after all, one of the reasons you do the work is because the relationship allows you to stretch your creativity!

Make your value known. Some public service clients have never worked with a professional designer before. They may not know what your fee structure is, and thus do not understand the monetary value of the services you are providing. Consider issuing a statement for the time and expenses you incur so your pro bono clients understand the true worth of your contributions.

For nonprofits

Just as advance planning on the creative side can make a relationship with a nonprofit go more smoothly, there are several things a public service client should take into account in establishing a relationship with a designer.

Know what you're getting. Just because a firm agrees to do the work you need done doesn't necessarily mean you should strike up a relationship. If a firm's style is incompatible or inappropriate to your message, you're not doing anyone a favor in collaborating. Review the work of the group and meet with the staff that will be your contacts. It's a lot easier to shop for the right fit than to disengage from a bad working relationship.

Be organized. The most-cited reason for an unsatisfactory pro bono relationship is that the client doesn't value the designer's time. Start by having a creative brief that outlines your needs, the target audience, budget, timing, and "must include" items such as logo, credits, etc. Develop a schedule or timeline for when you'll have materials ready and stick to it. Come to meetings prepared. Identify one person who will work with the designer to keep communication clear.

Be helpful. Whenever possible, make the designer's job easier. If there are people on your board with graphic arts connections - printers, paper merchants, etc. - make it known to the design staff. Go to the designer's studio for meetings to save travel time. Make meetings short and efficient. Be clear and specific if a design solution is not on target ... speak up early rather than letting a project progress with further effort by the creative team.

Promote your relationship. Allow the firm to have a credit line on printed materials. Give them complimentary tickets to your events and consider recognizing the creative team during your programs. Be sure your board knows who is doing your work, and if possible champion them for paid projects board members may be involved in. Mention the firm in your newsletter and when talking to the media. Provide copies of the project for the firm to use in its own promotion efforts.

Acknowledge value. Send a thank-you letter. Be an unsolicited testimonial. Convey your gratitude to make it more likely you'll receive gratis work in the future.

Reprinted with permission of Dynamic Graphics magazine, February/March 2005, V10N1, ©2005.

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