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

Your desire to do pro bono work is testament to the type of person you are: compassionate, enterprising, willing to learn, teach and grow.

This combination of admirable qualities is guaranteed to get you in trouble in your professional life. Trust me on this; no matter how clean and pure your creative well is, there’s somebody out there ready to pee in it.

Everybody has their horror stories about the client who wouldn’t pay, or the one who wouldn’t go away, or the ones who wanted to keep you forever. And keep in mind that these people are paying customers (except the ones who don’t). Tragically, most of these stories end with the same question and answer:

“Did you have a contract?”


Remember our mantra “Always get something back?” A contract is the 250-pound bodyguard that allows you to get yours. It’s a warm blankie that keeps you from getting frozen out. It’s the cease-fire that keeps you from getting shot. It’s the pet goldfish that never has to be flushed. Your creative brief should be cheery, happy and helpful. Your concept presentation should be a joyous hippie-fest of naked love.

But your pro bono contract should have teeth…at both ends. Your contract should be attached to a project agreement that details exactly what you’re doing for this organization. And by “details exactly” I mean that you should have an intricate explanation of the project, starting with the overall idea and working down to the nitty-gritty. “Build a website” and “design a logo” are not acceptable. “Creation of ten to twelve webpages, including a Welcome Page, About Us, Contact Page, 404 page, etc.” and “Create an identity package including a logo and corresponding letterhead, flexible second-page, business card and envelope,” is probably a good start.

You may feel like you’re over-reaching when you produce a contract for your project. You might even feel like you’re not “big enough” for one. Get that idea out of your head once and for all. Contracts protect your client from making the embarrassing mistake of thinking you’re an employee. They affix a concrete monetary amount to the endeavor. They keep the money on their side of the table and the creative expression on yours. Most importantly they allow you both to land on your feet and walk away if things go wrong.

The following is a sample contract for pro-bono work. Special thanks to Catherine Morley of BoDo and Designers Who Blog, Faith Martin, Calvin Lee of Mayhem Studios, who were generous with their experience. It is, by nature, a generic contract and should be adopted and adapted. I know it looks lengthy, but think of it like a bath towel at the gym; in a roomful of people you’ll always end up wishing for more than less.

    Pro Bono Project Agreement

The individual providing services will be (Insert Name Here), referred to in this contract as “the Creative.” If the Creative is working with a team of other professionals, then all information will be communicated through the Creative. All efforts will be made to provide appropriate and successful solutions to meet the communication needs of the organization.

One member of the Company is to be assigned as sole liaison between the Creative and client. This person is (insert name here). In case of communication delay or difficulty, the secondary contact is (insert name here).

A Creative Brief compiled, approved and signed by all members of the Design Team will be required to provide insight into the criteria used to provide the solution. All members of staff that desire creative input will be required to attend any meetings where concepts or comprehensives are presented.

The designer reserves the right to present concepts and/or comprehensives to the assembled staff in person.

A project budget must be submitted to the designer before work can begin.

A total project or monthly time-cap will be determined for this project. The project will end upon the date specified in the contract under the production timeline. Exceptions will be determined on a per project basis.

The number of original concepts presented and revisions provided for this project will be agreed upon before work commences.

Agreed-upon number concepts for Project: (insert quantity here).

After a concept is selected, the revision process begins. Revision is defined by the Creative as a variation which constitutes a significant change to the form, content, or components of the selected concept.

NOTE: revisions are a natural part of the design process, but excessive revisions creates an endless loop between the Creative and the Organization, and may lead to a project stall. The Creative agrees to notify the organization if the project revision process is approaching a stall point, upon which the project will be halted until the Creative and the Organization determine the best course of action.

Agreed-upon number revisions for chosen concept: (insert quantity here).

Project Name:
Date Requested:
Project Manager:
Primary Contact:
Secondary Contact:
Business Address:

Additional Contributors (if any):

Estimated commercial cost of project based on the Design Brief: $0000.00

Design & Layout: Pro Bono

Project Hours Estimate: (# of estimated hours) @ ($ 00.00) per hour.

All project estimates are solely dependent on the organizations ability to provide the necessary project material in the format requested and in a timely fashion.

Purchase of any fonts, third-party services and stock artwork used in the final concept will be billed to the organization.

Printing fees: paid for by (name of organization)

Specifics from Creative Brief

Project Objectives:
Creative Considerations:
Look and feel desired:
Current organization colors are:
Current Organization Fonts:

Production Specifications & Schedule

Submission of materials to the Creative: Rules and Guidelines.
Please read the following rules and guidelines carefully. Failure to comply with these requirements may delay your project.


Please deliver all text based information as a text-only word processing file prepared as follows:

  • Open and Save a document in your word processing program in the text-only format (.txt)
  • Type all information as one file (don’t use text boxes).
  • Do not use: Indents, Tabs, Underlines, extra spaces or symbols.
  • Specialized symbols, like accent marks, tildes, or scientific designators are an exception to the rule and the Creative should be notified of their usage and supplied with a print-version of select symbols.
  • Space once after a period.
  • Please use Courier, Arial, or Times New Roman for your text.
  • Utilize or signify appropriate capitalization, punctuation, bold, or italics.
  • Double-space or triple-space between paragraphs or other sections you wish to be set apart or formatted in a special manner.
  • Put notations or instructions in where necessary. For instance: (Empty page) (Form goes here) (Photo to be provided as digital, hard copy or whatever may apply) etc.
  • Please provide a hardcopy proof of your text for comparison purposes.
  • The Creative is not responsible for ensuring proper grammar, spelling or citation of references. Please have your team provide proofreading and quality control for all text.


    Graphics may be submitted on a Compact Disc or via email. Please read the following guidelines for submission carefully.

    If your project is Web-based:

    The following formats and qualities are acceptable for Web usage:

  • Photos - original professionally developed and printed hard copies
  • Digital Camera - medium quality or higher.
  • Formats that are appropriate or can be converted for print media are

  • Files from vector-programs such as Illustrator, Freehand or CorelDraw
  • Files from raster-program files such as Photoshop.
  • If your project is print-based:

    The following formats and qualities are acceptable:

  • Photos - original professionally developed and printed hard copy.
  • Digital Camera - Highest resolution available
  • Formats that are appropriate or can be converted for print media are

  • TIFF, uncompressed JPEG, EPS
  • Files from vector-programs such as Illustrator, Freehand or CorelDraw
  • Files from raster-program files such as Photoshop.
  • Graphics files embedded in word processing files (including Word, Powerpoint, PDF, Publisher, Excel or Keynote are incompatible formats and will be rejected. Graphics files from Websites, camera phones or screen captures are unacceptable and will be rejected.

    Deliverables = content, graphics, photographs or information needed to complete the project. Please be aware that pro bono work must be a secondary consideration when scheduling work. If the schedule below does not seem realistic and you feel you will need more time, please note an alternate schedule date next to the suggested schedule date.

    Deliverables from (name of organization): (date)

    (Print Jobs Only) Delivery of Digital Files to Printer:

    Final Delivery of digital files and/or (other project items) to (name of organization):

    Completion/delivery of project: The estimated completion date of this project is:

    Legal Requirements

    Editor’s Note: Laws are not the same everywhere; check your state or government guidelines to ensure you’re not infringing on any rules!

    Client assumes all responsibility for use of any artwork, copyrighted material or trademark/s provided by the client or by direction or request of the client to the designer for use in the project.

    (Initial here______)

    Signed proofs protect the Organization and Creative equally, and are required before work can be completed. The Client agrees to accept responsibility for reviewing text for grammatical and spelling errors, fact-checking, color and image approval.

    (Initial here ______)

    (Print Jobs Only) There may be slight color variations between proofs and finished jobs. Final color is dependent upon the printing equipment and paper stock used. (Laser is not as accurate as Offset. Designated color-matching systems, such as Pantone can be specified, but not always duplicated on laser printers).

    Reproduction rights:

    Any work of the designer, whether original or using previously established design elements, is considered a new work of art and therefore sole rights to that art and all native electronic files (ie: Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, Quark Xpress or Pagemaker) remain the sole property of the designer. If a creative proposal is not accepted as presented, the artwork, whole or in part remains the legal property of the designer.

    The designer hereby grants that the following conditions shall apply to this project:

    (Editor’s note: this is a great place to specify exactly what you’re giving and what you’re keeping in regards to rights, below are a few samples; you may need to tweak them depending upon the type of work you’re doing.)

    (Initial here______)


    __ The client assumes full reproduction rights upon completion of the project.

    __ One-time reproduction rights for the specified project, at the agreed fee, are granted to the client. Any other usage must be negotiated.

    __ All reproduction rights on the copyrighted work are retained by the designer. The work may not be reproduced in any form without consent from the designer.

    __ The designer retains personal rights to use the completed project and any preliminary designs for the purpose of design competitions, future publications on design, educational purposes and the marketing of the designer’s business. Where applicable the client will be given any necessary credit for usage of the project elements.

    The Designer reserves the right to use examples of this project in portfolios, design publications, educational materials, competitions and for marketing purposes. When used for these purposes and where applicable, the client will be given credit for usage of the project elements.

    (Initial here______)

    Credit Line: A “Design & Layout by Xxxx” credit line may be inserted (at the discretion of the creative) on the publication or Website in an appropriate location.

    (Initial here______)

    Client-supplied hard copy photographs will be returned upon completion of the project. In addition, all photographs, text, and concepts originating with the Organization remain the property of the Organization

    All preparatory materials purchased or created for use in the project remain the property of the Creative.

    In the event that the Creative and the Organization conclude that the project has reached a point where continuance is no longer desirable, this project is subject to a mutually agreed upon termination. In the event of cancellation of this assignment, ownership of all concepts, sketches, programming and revisions shall be retained by the designer.

    Acceptance of agreement: The above, specifications and conditions are hereby accepted. The Creative is authorized to execute the project as outlined in this agreement. Proposal is accepted as outline above.

    Client’s signature_____________________

    Creative’s signature_________________________

    Date ______/______/______

    And that’s about it. Tune in next time as we address common and not-so-common issues that may arise while working with your client, problem-solving, troubleshooting and ways to get what you need when you need it. Ciao for now, and stay dedicated to getting something back!

    This series is 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. Along the way we’ll include international design experts, research and statistics, etiquette and most importantly, how to be part of the solution. Stay tuned and let your voices be heard.

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

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