Posted by: Thomas Stephan
Category: Working Pro-bono
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Thomas (Tom) Stephan

We’ve come to an end, ladies and gentlemen (and those who have yet to make up your minds). We’ve talked about never working for free again, never working against your education and training, working on your own terms and educating yourself as you go along. We’ve found places to look for pro bono opportunities, places to find contracts and ways to deal with difficulties. We even found ways to trumpet your success to the masses. What could possibly be left?

Well…to be honest with you…not much. I don’t know about you guys but I’m exhausted. Except maybe one thing. Because there’s one big secret about this entire series:

I’m not getting paid to do this. Not a single word. Not a single line.

I took this series on for about four separate reasons. I wanted to write for BoDo because I believe in BoDo. I wanted to learn about online blogging, online publishing and online writing. I wanted to expand my knowledge of Web 2.0 as more than a catchphrase. And I wanted a creative outlet to write about something I loved.

To this endeavor I brought to the table over ten years of experience and endless hours of college and real-world education. I know nonprofits - good, bad and ugly, inside and out. I know freelance work. I know people. I know writing for the public. I know kung fu.

But there were many things I didn’t know when I started. I didn’t know about timed publishing, but I learned very quickly; I didn’t comprehend the vagaries of HTML, but I picked it up as I went along; I didn’t know how time-consuming responding to comments would be (nor how much fun it was!) but I threw myself into it with glee; I had no idea how WordPress worked, but I made it happen.

Did I benefit from this series? You bet your sweet tuckus I did.

I currently work for a very large, very nice, very professional non-profit that decided to upgrade their website. We were called in to a meeting about the redesign where we were asked the following questions:

“Have you ever worked with CSS and online publishing?” Why, yes I do…now.

“Do you have any experience with HTML editing?” Why, yes I do…now.

“Do you know about tagging? How about SEO.” Why, yes I do…now.

I could keep going, but you get the drift. I learned. I grew. I’ve expanded my understanding of the creation of an online presence exponentially. All because I was willing to say yes - to working pro bono on my terms, on my time and in my way.

And I have triumphed. I’ve added nearly a dozen lines to my professional resume, my career skill-set and my personal growth. I even picked up a dozen freelance writing gigs along the way that did make money. I didn’t make a dime on this series and yet I’m richer for every word I put into it. I’ve gathered something that can never ever be taken away, devalued or spent.

Maybe you think “I don’t have time to work for free.” Hogwash; I pull a 40-hour workweek and a full set of weekend activities and managed just fine. Perhaps you think “Well, that’s great for you, but I’m not a writer — I’m a different type of creative individual.” Rubbish again; whether you write, code, design, illustrate or sing jingles you can follow these articles and reap the benefits just as I did.

There are millions of reasons to say no to a new project. Some of them are even believable. But those reasons are just a million little fears made manifest in the smoke of your insecurity. The fear of what-might-happen is the most subtle and insidious poison ever manufactured inside the human mind. The easiest way to combat that fear is simple; step into the unknown and it will not follow.

Work pro-bono to free your mind. Once you get past the minutiae, you’re free to focus on the bigger and better things. They’ll make you bigger, better people. And, young or old, newbie or veteran — the rules still apply. Always get something back, even if you work for free. Treat your pro-bono work and clients like paid jobs and they’ll return the favor. Make a contract to protect everyone’s best interests (with a few extra steps in there to save your own skin). Ask questions. Learn about things you didn’t know before. When the work is done, show the world. Bigger and better, folks…bigger and better.

I wish the best of all things to all of you who have taken on a project pro bono. To my collaborators and friends: Jeff Fisher, Tamar Wallace, Calvin Lee, Jay Wickham and the unflagging support of my editor-in-chief and cheerleader Catherine Morley, I thank you from the bottom of my big fat motherly heart. And to those of you still on the fence - just go ahead and say yes to pro bono! The worst that can happen is that you’ll learn something about yourself, your world and your work.

I encourage you to ask questions and leave comments and tell me how you feel, what you think, and let me know what I’ve missed or just to say hello. In the meantime and every time - be gentle with yourself.

Thanks, and ciao for now.

This series has been dedicated to the exploration of pro bono practices: from how to find the non-profit client, understanding the expectations of not-for profit work, setting up contracts to protect both parties and the successful (and not so successful) ways to educate yourself and your client on how creatives can and should work together to the benefit of all involved.

Thomas (Tom) Stephan | Director of Something Clever
BoDo Author | Dyer Straits | Working Pro-bono

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Comments to this post:

Comment: cat says

Tom, this has got to be the best EVER finish of a series! Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

And now on to the ‘Working Pro bono’ ebook. Yeah :-)

12th June 2008 Quote

Comment: Andrian Syahputra says

Hi Tom!

I’m Andrian from Jakarta, Indonesia. Thanks for the advices and articles that armed me for thing’s to come, since I’m going to do a probono as my first step in opening my solo design studio in Jakarta.


12th June 2008 Quote

Comment: Katy Kafantaris says

Hi Tom!… VERY much appreciate the time you took to write this blog.. it has been VERY helpful to me! I’ve worked with pro bono’s in the past and it went fine and I got other work and great contacts from it BUT, after reading this, I can definitely improve on my process!


13th June 2008 Quote

Comment: Karen says

Oh Tom, I’m sad to see this series end. I have enjoyed every word you’ve written with your great ideas and humor.
Is there something on the horizon that we’ll be able to look forward to?
Best of luck to you.

13th June 2008 Quote

Comment: Alina says

Beautifully expressed and written Tom! You’ve given us so much with this series; it’s wonderful to know you have benefitted as well. I gained similar growth with my work for Creative Latitude.

So, what’s next? : )


13th June 2008 Quote

Comment: Thomas Stephan says

Hi Andrian!

I am so happy that you’re out there making pro bono work for you! Feel free to track me down here and share some of your stories as they develop!

13th June 2008 Quote

Comment: Thomas Stephan says

Thanks Katy! I think, like everything — the better your process, the better your results. That being said, when you find ways to customize your work to fit your experience, please come back and share that skill back with others!

13th June 2008 Quote

Comment: Thomas Stephan says

Alina and Karen: I am in process of packaging this series as an e-book with new little chapters and tips and ‘not-so-polite” stories to add even more flesh to the processes I’ve outlined here. I’m pretty excited. And I’ll be posting for my humor column as soon as I find something that tickles my funnybone!

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Comment: faith says

You know we loved every word Tom.

13th June 2008 Quote

Comment: Jeff Fisher LogoMotives says

Tom -

Congratulations on the conclusion of a great series (and thanks for the mention)!

- Jeff

13th June 2008 Quote

Comment: Thomas Stephan says

Jeff — Thank YOU for your support!

13th June 2008 Quote

Comment: Chad Behnke says

Thank you for this wonderful series, Tom. Your posts have been a delightful blend of humour and insightful and meaningful advice.

As an aside, welcome to the dark side of web editing. :) Next thing you know you’ll be messing around with backend languages. It goes quick.

Hope to read more from you in the future!

13th June 2008 Quote

Comment: Thomas Stephan says

Thanks Chad! I’m already doing the face-scrunched up thing, followed by…”did you add a back-slash?”


13th June 2008 Quote

Comment: Danita Reynolds of Creative Expertise says

Nicely done! Glad to see that you are making a ebook out of the series.

Any plans on doing a series on writing?

13th June 2008 Quote

Comment: Thomas Stephan says

Hi Danita! That may be my next step — I wouldn’t mind doing a section on writing — and what a way to better my own skills along the way!

13th June 2008 Quote

Comment: Catherine says

Tom, a series on writing would be an excellent addition!

13th June 2008 Quote

Comment: Thomas Stephan says

Hi Catherine;

I think so, too. I’ll start sharpening my quill, but first I think I’ll take a mini-break and rest my achin’ head!

13th June 2008 Quote

Comment: phoenix says

Tom - what a great finale to a wonderful series. It really has been detailed, yet wonderfully expressive. I know this won’t be the last of your writing that we read. It is even more heart-warming to know that you’ve gained new knowledge which will serve your well. Onwards and upwards!

13th June 2008 Quote

Comment: Digi says

Great finale, Tom! Congrats on a job well done and the knowledge gained doing it. It’s been a real pleasure reading your words.

14th June 2008 Quote

Comment: Thomas Stephan says

Thanks, Phoenix and Digi! You’re makin’ me blush!

14th June 2008 Quote

Comment: eggles says

Hi Tom
Congrats on a great article. I’m one of those people who has kept clear of ‘web stuff’ (I consider myself a print-only gal) but this article has made me stop and think about changing that view. I did some basic HTML training about 8 years ago, and found it kind of frustrating - one of the reasons I steered clear of it. But you never know…

14th June 2008 Quote

Comment: Seapony says

Tom, there isn’t much more to add to the throng of exceedingly well-deserved compliments regarding this series. BoDo and it’s “BoDo-ites” are better because of it, methinks.

Congratulations, never-ending luck on your future venture(s) and I hope to see you back in another thrilling series soon.


14th June 2008 Quote

Comment: Irene says

Don’t stop now! I’ve been meaning to write, really I have, but that teeny tiny part of my brain that tells me that I’ll only sound like a total doofus (is that even a word we use anymore?) has been keeping my fingers off the keyboard. I’m quickly sneaking this in before I can stop myself. Seriously, you don’t want to know.
Really, truly enjoyed your articles. You have a way with words that both makes me giggle insanely alone in my cube and just happens to make total sense.(It’s almost as if you planned it that way!) Awesome. I want more. ;)

18th June 2008 Quote

Comment: Thomas Stephan says

Aw, shucks, Irene! You’re makin’ me blush — I will be around for many moons, don’t you worry — and look out for the eBook very soon!

Oh, and doofus is a word I use to describe myself, so it better be real!

18th June 2008 Quote

Comment: Shanna Korby says

I have been meaning to do pro-bono for some time now. Your articles were the inspiration I needed to get started. I have recently completed two pro-bono projects for non-profits I believe in. Now I just have to get on that media ho wagon and write a newsletter article about it.

So a series about writing would be great. Thanks.

23rd June 2008 Quote

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