Karma is defined in Hinduism or Buddhism as an “informal destiny or fate, following as effect from cause”. Or, as put more simply by Justin Timberlake, “What Goes Around Comes Around.” Essentially, if you put positivity out there, good will come back to you.

Some freelancers cringe at the thought of pro bono work; doing things they usually get paid upwards of $70/hour to do, for free. However, there is a lot of good that can come out of a pro bono project if you pursue them like the good karma they are.

Actually, let’s rephrase that. There is a lot of good that comes out of pro bono work if you do things properly. Here’s how:

Start With Contracts

As usual, start with a contract. While you’re doing free work for them, generally speaking these clients haven’t been through the design process before. Limiting your services to a certain scope is always good so you don’t feel bad later when they ask for it and you refuse to do it. You should be allocating a certain amount of hours towards the project, and should still treat milestones the same way.

This doesn’t necessarily have to be a full-out contract, but a point-form list or Project Brief will work as well — something that they need to sign.

Be An Educator

Brian Hoff of The Design Cubicle has a nice little article on “Educated clients means more clients“. Very simply put, if you educate the client about your work and how much you would normally charge, when they come back (and they will come back), they’ll be more apt to apply an honorarium for your services.

What I do to gently tell these clients how much work has been put in is by giving them a post-project analysis of what work has been done, how many hours has been put in, and how much this would generally cost.

Go Nuts

One of the great parts of pro bono projects is that (more often than not), you get complete creative freedom. If you’ve been eyeing a tutorial you just dug up, or you had this crazy idea you think might just work, go nuts on pro bono projects and use it as practice for other work. Since you’re not billing your hours or anything, you can use your time however you want and in whatever capacity.

When selecting pro bono projects as well, choose projects that are out of your niche so you get an idea of how the feel of the business is. Doing this will help you when you need to do real research for other paying clients’ projects.

Brag A Little

When you’re doing a project for a pro bono client, they want you to get something out of what you do as well. Pro bono clients are more willing for you to have your logo and link to your portfolio splashed all over the place and in their advertising space because they know you put a lot of work into their project.

They also won’t mind you advertising that you did their site through volunteering your time on your portfolio – and honestly, other clients looking at your portfolio will be impressed that you do pro bono projects. End of story: Doing pro bono projects looks amazing on you, and adds a very nice touch to your portfolio that shows you truly do care about local and global causes. This compassion is lacking from a lot of portfolios, and having it gives you that added edge.

What Have You Learned?

Now’s your time to share. What have you learned from pro bono projects?

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