You’re a graphic design student with a portfolio full of fictitious projects. You want to work with clients to build your experience, but you need a more developed portfolio to attract the clients. A classic catch-22.
That’s when pro bono design proves extremely useful.
What is pro bono?
Pro bono publico (usually shortened to pro bono) is a Latin phrase that means “for the public good.” The term is generally used to describe professional work undertaken voluntarily and without payment as a public service.
Unlike traditional volunteerism, pro bono uses the specific skills of professionals to provide services to those who are unable to afford them.
What business should you approach?
Small- to medium-sized non-profits are most in need. Larger non-profits will have a substantial budget allocated to their brand identity, and are more likely to work with a studio or agency.
Search online or look in your telephone directory for a local organisation. The benefit of staying local is you can meet your new client face-to-face. Not only will that help build your confidence, it also makes it easier to ensure you’re dealing with the decision-maker rather than passing design ideas through a middle-person — adding an unnecessary step to the process.
Another benefit with working locally include the opportunity to take photos of the finished design in context (e.g., on signage and stationery). It’s these contextual shots that can turn an average portfolio into an excellent one.
Additionally, you’re building your network of local business contacts, and the stronger your network, the more help that’s available throughout your design career.
How to make the approach
It’s important to talk to the person directly responsible for the branding. In a small-sized non-profit this is likely to be the managing director or chief executive.
Call or send an email pitching yourself as a talented designer with policy of devoting a small percentage of time towards pro bono work (for the public good), and that your client’s non-profit mission is one you have a great deal of respect for (this should, of course, be true).
Detail the savings you are offering your client (your standard rate for an identity project, only discounted by 100%). Doing so will ensure the value of the outcome isn’t underestimated, and helps keep your client motivated.
Arrange a 30-minute meeting, where you’ll discuss the design needs and set a course of action.
In the meeting
Arrive with a list of pre-determined questions, a notepad, pen, and your business card (which you’ll hand over at the end).
Your client might be anxious about having his or her brand identity created or redesigned. It might be seen as a risk rather than a way to help secure the organisation’s future. So the more indepth your initial discussions, the more at ease your client will be.
Time the meeting, and if you haven’t finished within 30 minutes, say you have reached the end of the allocated time, and that you can call or email your client at a later date for any other information — your client will be busy, and will appreciate you sticking to your pre-arranged limit.
Questions to ask
I’ve outlined a number of important questions in chapter four of my book.
How did you attract your first client in self-employment?
My first client was actually my former employer — a cancer organisation in Edinburgh. I was responsible for the company’s print and web management, and when I resigned to spend some months travelling, I returned to find that a suitable replacement hadn’t been found.
I asked the chief executive to hire me for three days each week as a design contractor. He agreed, allowing me to spend the remainder of the week building my online presence and sourcing additional clients. Here’s a little more about how I became self-employed.
What about you? How did your first client come about?
10 tips for designers working pro bono, on Co.Design
Top photo by Nicholas Hollows