Charitable, speculative and free design work is regularly sought after in the design industry. While the terms are often interchanged, there are important distinctions between them which define whether designers should accept or refuse the work.
There’s no shortage of people who want free graphic design work. The most common excuses are “we’re only a small business” or “we’re a start-up company”. If we’re being honest though, this is rubbish.
No retail store tells their wholesaler they can’t afford to pay for products because they’re small. No office says they can’t pay the rent because they’re only a start-up.
Graphic design is a service like any other, and like everyone else in this world, designers deserve and expect to get paid for their efforts. The expectation of free graphic design work from any business is simply unacceptable.
While it may be tempting for students or designers just starting out to undertake free work in the hope of things to come, your time is better spent elsewhere. Design some promotional work, write guest articles for exposure or contact a real charity (we’ll get to that in a minute) who really can’t afford it. Anything but working for free.
Requests for free work are often dressed up as speculative, even though people have no intention to pay. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s pretend the client is legitimate in their promises to pay if they’re happy with the work. Even if this is the case, it’s still flawed thinking.
Not wanting to pay for something which isn’t right is understandable, but if you don’t have some amount of confidence in a designer, why are you dealing with them? No one hires a builder and thinks “I’m really getting a bad vibe from this guy. Some of his work looks pretty sloppy. Oh well, I’ll hire him anyway and if my house isn’t right I just won’t pay“. No, you contact someone else.
Spec work is most common in the form of design contests. A client promises an amount for the winning entry and depending on the terms & conditions of the provider, is often not required to pick a winner and can withdraw their offer. There is little to no risk for the client.
On the flip side of that coin, there is little to no chance for the designer to be compensated for their time. As a result they simply don’t care. Your design project is just one of many churn and burn jobs that the minimal amount of effort will go into for a chance at payment. Good graphic designers charge because they deliver a good service.
If you like a designers work but have any concerns, speak to them! Good designers care about the work they do and are just as eager for a successful project as you are.
Charity graphic design:
Contributing to a worthwhile charity is obviously a great thing, but “charitable organisations” come in many forms. You also may not support a particular organisation.
For example… I’ve done free design work in the past for local animal shelters, one in particular when I was living in Sydney. This cat shelter was run full time by one couple and a few dozen volunteers giving their time. They took in literally hundreds of cats, paying for everything themselves and with the help of modest donations. They only gave cats away to good homes and never put a single animal down. This is an organisation that deserves help.
On the other hand, I would not work for PETA, as they spend a great deal of money on advertising and legal battles while killing around 90% of the animals they “rescue”. (Note: That’s my personal view on the matter. No pro/anti PETA comments here please, as that topic would be better discussed elsewhere.)
You don’t need to wait for the right organisation to approach you either. Go out and find someone. There are plenty of suitable organisations with dud websites or clip-art pamphlets that would appreciate the help.
Where does charity stop?
Just because an organisation is charitable, doesn’t mean they don’t have funding. There are many national and international organisations with marketing budgets who hire agencies to co-ordinate their work.
It’s unfortunate, but some advertising agencies get paid work from charitable organisations then try to get free work from designers for the project. In this situation you’re working for the advertising agency, not the charity and you should be paid accordingly.
So what to do?
If business is good and you can give some time to a charitable organisation you support, that’s obviously great. Ultimately you’ve got to look out for number one, if the bills are piling up and your flat out, you should be focusing on paid work.
How do you manage charity, speculative and free graphic design work requests? Leave a comment and let me know.