Pro bono vs "freebies"
In my mind, there's a HUGE difference between working "pro bono" and doing a "Freebie".
First, some definitions: "Pro Bono" means donating your time, resources, and materials to do a project that you believe in, for no fee. There's no billing. No accounting. No bargaining. You agree to do it, and you do it to the best of your abilities. No invoice is ever sent. "Freebies"... well, I think we all know what that means, and there's been plenty of time spent on that topic in this forum. (See Ron's article on Grinders)
If possible, and the cause is worthy, I will gladly do a pro bono project. In contrast, I don't think I've ever done a "freebie". Just recently I completed a "pro bono" project for what I felt was a worthy cause. It gave me great pleasure to focus my skills on something that may actually make the world a better place. I worked just as hard (probably harder!) on this project than on any of my regular, paying work. However, the gratification and appreciation that came from this project was much, much greater than most of the regular work I do.
It feels good to "give back"... to contribute to the good of the community... to make a difference.
I'm grateful that the company I work for is enlightened enough to know that some of the most gratifying work that we do, doesn't always come with an invoice attached.
Just thought I'd share.
Whether they be "pro bono" or actual "freebies," sometimes they can make you feel very good about yourself, your work, and your place in the world.
And sometimes they can bite you in the butt.
Couple of months ago we were asked by a non-profit organization that we deal with to do a project to be shown at a convention in another city a few hundred miles away. Because we had some time that week, and because some members of one of our best paying client were involved, and because we were in a good mood that day, we said "Sure."
Did a fair little bit of shooting both on stage at our place and on multiple locations, did a quite a bit of editing, a fair little bit of special effects. Got a national-quality narrator to donate his voice tracks. Got a local (and very good) actor to participate, gratis. We produced an infomative (and very entertaining, in my opinion) several-minutes-long video. It was very specific and time-sensitive... good for a one-time showing at the convention.
It didn't really cost us anything out of pocket, just our time and energy... but they got a $10,000+ video for free.
After the date of the event, we inquired as to how it went. We were told, "Oh, they forgot to bring the right cable for the DVD player so they didn't show it."
I have rarely been madder. Maybe never, in fact.
And I'm feeling less charitable these days.
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
My policy was always, no pro bono work ever, for any reason.
We had two stock answers at the ready. The first was that our client base was virtually all non-profit organizations. If we gave away our work for good causes, we'd have no work.
That's probably not true for you, so I offer my other stock answer to you: inviting them to observe that virtually nobody else that they dealt with - not electric companies, phone companies, grocery stores, banks, post office, gas stations, veterinarians, barbers, restaurants - was giving them freebies because they were a good cause. Most weren't even discounting.
This was an especially easy reply if the person making the pitch to us was a volunteer - hey Mr. Realtor/Banker/Hotelier, you ain't donating your WORK products, and I won't either.
There were times that we gave free professional advice, sometimes about very complicated problems that took a lot of time to deal with. We helped people write and place press releases. We helped them get speaking gigs with other community groups (chambers of commerce, rotary, etc.), where they often showed our videos as part of the presentation.
But video work itself? Never ever ever for free. Not shooting, editing, duplication, nothing. We got paid for work. Period.
We gave away lots of other things to causes we believed in. We gave them money, bought them equipment, brought in food for the staff, served on boards, made phone calls, stuffed envelopes, recruited others, hosted fundraisers, donated stuff to raffle...but even the stuff we donated for raffle was never our WORK.
We found that having them pay for our work gave them pride of ownership in the finished project, and validated their belief that their efforts were worth being funded.
It also helped them to remember to actually USE our work. :-)
And, working in a small town, it ensured that our commercial clients never saw us giving away our work. It helped them respect us as peers, because they weren't giving their work away, either.
Time, money, sweat, blood, love -- you can have all that and more for free.
Pay for my work.
Before somebody links to the famous Harlan Ellison video clip, I just wanted to repeat something I've said before about Pro Bono.
I think doing documentary shorts or spots pro bono can be an excellent way to get in with a client you want paying gigs from. But under certain circumstances.
First, it has to be your idea, not theirs. Otherwise what Tim said would apply.
The idea is to use the piece of work as a calling card and a way to get inside the client by sneaking in thru the kitchen when the front door is bolted closed.
By that, I mean, you are treated one way when you come in the front door trying to pitch a job with the corporation. When you've worked on a charity that's a pet project of some bigwig at that corporation, that contact becomes a sort of short-cut around the front door gatekeepers because you've already established a relationship thru the charity work and the bigwig waves aside the gatekeepers and brings you in thru the back door. The atmosphere at a party is different in the dining room than it is back in the kitchen. My opinion, to stretch the metaphor, is that the kitchen as it were is where the real deals can be made more easily. More informal, fewer gatekeepers, you get treated better thru your shared charity link.
And let's not forget pro bono literally translates to "for the public good". You pick how much and what kind of this work you do because you want to do it, it makes you feel good to do it, you believe in the cause and support it, and if nothing else comes to you from that support, it doesn't matter. The pro-BONUS is when or if that charity work happens to sometimes open doors later, but that is the seconday benefit, not the main goal.
If you need to build a reel with spec work anyhow, why not make some of it actually useful to others, by making pieces that support the causes you believe in? You improve your skills, and you have this calling card, this potential point of contact or introduction. You send this to the charity, or to the CEO who loves that charity, and they may use it or they may not, but they will certainly give it a look, and probably remember you for it.
That's my theory, anyway.
"First, it has to be your idea, not theirs."
Yes, or else you are just a chump working for free.
I've done a few things here and there, I made an offer to a suicide hotline NFP after I heard an interview with their Pres who said they were having money troubles. I contacted them and offered to do a marketing video pro bono. A few weeks after our first meeting they shut down :(
[Todd Terry] "hey forgot to bring the right cable for the DVD player so they didn't show it." "
Ouch! That sucks.
In that case, I retract everything I just said!
[Todd Terry] "After the date of the event, we inquired as to how it went. We were told, "Oh, they forgot to bring the right cable for the DVD player so they didn't show it.""
Wow. I can feel that pain to my very core. Often the value they place on something is directly commensurate with what it cost them to acquire it.
Video production... with style!
[Jason Jenkins] "Wow. I can feel that pain to my very core. Often the value they place on something is directly commensurate with what it cost them to acquire it. "
And that is why I am a fan of what I call virtual billing, giving them a bill that shows what it would have cost them, had they been on the regular clock with you. It can be simple as your regular invoice, marked "comped for pro-bono" or something like that. Amazing what a difference it makes in the value perception.
"Oh, they forgot to bring the right cable for the DVD player so they didn't show it."
At that moment a fellow employee captured Todd's face to email to the client.
Yes, Emre... and that's what I still look like thinking about it.
Gotta let that one go.
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
There has not been a work day in 25 years where I didn't do some little something pro bono. To this day, never have a done a freeby.
Investments in relationships are opportinities. This is why the bono is pro.