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

If you’re like me, you’re probably a busy person. Between that cup of vaguely foul coffee in the morning to the evening glass of water, wine or fudge ripple ice cream, your day is rife with strife.

Get up, get cleaned, shave whatever your society dictates should be smooth, jump in the car/grab the bus/get on the camel/in the canoe, combat traffic (are there camel-jams? I’m sure there are) struggle through work/school/daytime stress, make that mad fervent dash for lunch, try to schedule some bathroom time, fight the good fight for the cheap buck and do it all in reverse after the noon hour.

So, in honor of those who already work themselves ragged and still say “sure, I’ll do some pro bono…where can I find some?” Here’s your resource list.

Volunteer Organizations

This is a no-brainer. Remember the volunteer vs. pro bono conversation? While they’re not the same thing, they’re good bedfellows. A little advice though: the larger the organization, the more likely they’ve got their own design resources. In other words, don’t call up your local Red Cross and offer to redesign their logo.

You could spend days searching for the right group to work for; fortunately there are plenty of design industry groups on the web that have done a lot of the footwork for you.

Design Industry Specific Volunteer Groups:

  • CreateAthon® A 24-hour, work-around the clock creative blitz during which local advertising agencies generate advertising services for local nonprofits that have little or no marketing budget.
  • Designers Without Borders Founded in Kampala, Uganda in 2001 in response to the need for assistance at the Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Arts. DWB continues to deliver technology, instruction, and design consulting to schools and select non-profits in Africa.
  • Design for the World An international humanitarian organization whose objective is to match the skills and commitment of volunteer designers with the needs expressed by disadvantaged populations and the organizations that serve them worldwide.
  • Grassroots.org Provides nonprofit organizations with free valuable technologies and resources to increase their efficiency and productivity, and spreads important social information via a network of socially-focused websites.
  • ICT Hub Suppliers Directory ICT connects voluntary and community sector organizations in England with suppliers of ICT products and services.
  • iT4Communities Introduces volunteer IT professionals to charities needing IT help.
  • Project M Founded by John Bielenberg, this group works to inspire young graphic designers, writers, photographers and other creative people that their work can have a positive and significant impact on the world. Their projects have taken them across America and the world.
  • The Designers Accord A coalition of design and innovation firms focused on working together to create positive environmental and social impact.
  • The Taproot Foundation Taproot asks volunteers to donate 3-5 hours per week on a 6-month pro bono project; most work is done virtually, with a weekly conference call with your team and one in-person meeting per month with your nonprofit client.
  • WonderRoot An Atlanta-based non-profit organization committed to uniting artists and community to inspire positive social change.
  • Worldstudio Foundation Guided by the belief that creativity holds enormous power for social change, Worldstudio Foundation offers both scholarships and mentoring for young creatives.

Volunteer Directories:

Volunteer Organizations:

  • CoolPeopleCare A site that lists meaningful events in nearly every American city, including 5k runs, volunteer opportunities, lectures and fund-raising dinners.
  • 1-800-Volunteer.org A national (US) database of volunteer opportunities powered by a volunteer management system for non-profits.
  • idealist.org Idealist is a project of Action Without Borders, a nonprofit organization founded in 1995 with offices in the United States and Argentina. Idealist is an interactive site for people and organizations to exchange resources and ideas, locate opportunities and supporters, and take steps toward building a world where all people can lead free and dignified lives.
  • NetAid Educating, inspiring and empowering young people to fight global poverty. NetAid is an initiative of Mercy Corps.
  • Online Volunteering Opportunities Provides an opportunity for the general community to participate in meaningful volunteer roles to enhance agency programs and services.
  • Pro Bono Australia Volunteer Match is Pro Bono Australia’s specialized service matching skilled professional volunteers and not-for-profit organizations. (Check out their Australian Directory of Not for Profit Organisations).
  • Media Trust Media Trust is a dynamic, innovative charity bringing together the media industry and charities.
  • UNV Online Volunteering The Online Volunteering service connects development organizations and volunteers over the Internet and supports their effective online collaboration.
  • Volunteering England Volunteering England’s mission is to support an increase in the quality, quantity, impact and accessibility of volunteering throughout England.
  • VolunteerMatch: Pretty much defined by their name, VolunteerMatch is a U.S. - based site that brings people and volunteer opportunities together.
  • Volunteer Match - Pro Bono Australia A specialized service matching Skilled Professional Volunteers and not-for-profit organisations in Australia.
  • Volunteer NOW! Volunteering New Zealand.

Tip: Before you agree to donate time to a non-profit organization, make sure to do a little research at Charity Watchdog.

And if the shoe doesn’t fit in any of these categories…

…then head out on your own. No design organization in your area? Why don’t you start one with some classmates or fellow designers? Pool your resources and create a pro bono organization dedicated to serving local nonprofits and volunteer groups. The possibilities are there if you reach for them. It’s a great way to get experience in both networking and leadership skills, both of which look great on your resume.

Tip: If you don’t know where to start, Care2 supports an Action Alerts list.

Designer-Generated Projects:

  • Beyond Graphic Are you beyond graphic?
  • Blog Action Day One issue. One Day. Thousands of Voices.
  • Building Letters Launched in 2003 by Jim Richardson, the group has donated profits from the sales of their 36-page magazine on African design to support two African orphanages for children with AIDS.
  • Design Can Change Graphic designers unite to address climate change.
  • ROSA LOVES ♥ Designed For Good A group of friends with a vision who want to make a real impact in this world.
  • veggiebrands.com The first branding resource dedicated to those who own or work for vegetarian organizations, products, services and causes.

Funding for Designer-Generated Projects:

  • Audi Design Foundation Seeks to encourage and empower designers by supporting and promoting designs that create a positive change in people’s lives.
  • Sappi Limited - Initiatives | Sappi Ideas that Matter ‘Ideas that Matter’ is a program from the paper product giant that supports design for the public good. Monetary grants are available for designers throughout the world to create and implement projects that serve the causes that are closest to their hearts. In their words: “We want to encourage ideas that have the potential to change our lives, our communities, and our world.”

Design Organisations

Today I got an email from a printer with some color questions about a logo I designed. I asked her how she got the gig; she found it on her local design chapter job forum after a 30-second search! If you have a strong local or national design organisation that’s active in your area, you have access to a wealth of paid and pro bono opportunities.

Now there’s a caveat to this advice: Don’t EVER offer to do a paid job listed on these sites for free. That’s called “taking food out of someone’s mouth,” and if you try to pull that kind of stunt you’ll have to change your name and leave town in the middle of the night.

To find a design organisation in your area: Icograda (International Council of Graphic Design Associations) is a good place to start, as is your local design school. Again, head for google and your local yellow pages.

Art Schools

I’m lucky enough to live in a region that’s chock full of universities, colleges and art schools. And these schools receive hundreds of requests for design or creative help every year. Google your community and find out where these schools are. Go have a look at their community announcement boards. Not everything is on the web, and the things that are posted on the Net receive exponentially more inquiries. Remember; you’re looking to help someone who needs to move beyond the photocopied flyer. An added bonus for those of you still in college: you might be able to take one of these jobs as an independent study for college credit.

Community Groups

I can’t say it enough: your local chamber of commerce is a source of good information for many industries in your area. Get in there (in person), grab a fistful of newsletters(new and old), and read up about your community. You’ll find events to promote, names to know and people to see. Find out when they have their next meeting. Become a member or just be a groupie. Take some business cards with you.

To find your local chamber: Googling’s a good start, but you can also use ChamberFind.com, or look in your local yellow pages.

Business and Social Networking Sites:

Finding a decent pro bono project will take networking to some degree (but you already knew that, right?). Businesses and business owners who frequent networking sites are your business target market, so it makes sense to go where they go, right? Put the word out that you are looking for a pro bono project and be clear exactly what that means. Plenty of networking sites are inundated with “special deals” that turn out to be spoofs or scams; word your intentions clearly so people know you’re one of the good guys.

If you want to increase your opportunities, consider joining one of the networks listed here. Mingle with like-minded professionals and find your perfect pro bono project. Who knows? You might accidentally end up with a paid job instead!

  • Biznik Business Networking that Doesn’t Suck.
  • Ecademy Free membership and guarantee of privacy makes Ecademy a good networking site
  • Facebook I’ve just suggested a ‘Pro bono Designers’ network on FB and I’m waiting to see if they agree …
  • Fast Pitch bills itself as “a one-stop shop to network and market your business.”
  • Konnects Business Networking, Professional Network, Online communities.
  • Linkedin An excellent site that allows you to connect with anyone you know, plus the opportunity to be introduced to those you don’t.
  • Ryze business networking Ryze allows for business and social networking on one convenient site.
  • Viadeo The business network chosen by Over 2 million professionals online. Available in Dutch, English, Spanish, French, Italian, and Portugese
  • ZaaBiz One of Australia’s leading networking platforms.
  • Wikipedia List of social networking websites.

Finally, and most important to any pro bono enterprise, is to go where your heart takes you. Maybe you’ve got a child with a medical condition, or an illness of your own that needs more public awareness. Perhaps your neighborhood needs less crime and more playgrounds. Charity starts at home, and volunteerism leads to pro bono work. Lead from your heart, with your head in the right place, and you can’t lose.

Next up, Working With a Pro bono Client: Part One.


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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Comments to this post:

Comment: thatsbignzy says

Hi ! I have got the most valuable information about teaching children they can realize their dreams, if they continue to try and believe in themselves to instill positive thinking and strong moral values into children at an early age.

6th March 2008 Quote

Comment: Catherine says

Tom, what an excellent resource! Megga.

6th March 2008 Quote

Comment: John Davies says

Thanks for featuring us. We help IT people to volunteer - and we help both volunteer and charity through to project completion. You might also add our friends at the Media Trust www.mediatrust.org who also match pro bono expert and charity.

7th March 2008 Quote

Comment: Catherine says

Thanks John. I’ve added Media Trust to our resources.

7th March 2008 Quote

Comment: Tamar Wallace says

Excellent post and list of resources!

I just recently joined forces with CreateAthon myself, and am looking forward to helping some local non-profits during CreateAthon Week 2008. It’s going to be exhausting, but great fun, I hope! :-)

- Tamar

7th March 2008 Quote

Comment: Jess Sand says

Holy smokes, what a great list! I can personally vouch for the wonderful Taproot Foundation; they make it sooo easy to work on their projects, and tend to avoid all the trouble spots that sometimes crop op on pro bono projects.

7th March 2008 Quote

Comment: Jason Gamby says

Hey haven’t you heard of Virtudex.com? It’s the best business social network. Invite only so here is the pass code - pass08

8th March 2008 Quote

Comment: Catherine says

Tamar - I’d love to hear about your experiences with CreateAthon when you resurface!

Jess - same goes for Taproot Foundation. I’ve heard a ton of great things about how they operate.

Jason - No, haven’t heard of Virtudex.com. Tried to access it, but … not sure if it’s my computer, but I can’t get in.

8th March 2008 Quote

Comment: Thomas Stephan says

Thanks to Tamar, Jess and John for your personal experiences. I’m excited to see that BoDO has created a resource that is useful for all, regardless of experience levels and backgrounds. Anybody who has personal experiences, please feel free to chime in!

8th March 2008 Quote

Comment: Randy Tyler says

Hello Thomas,

Thank you for providing an informed overview of the many ways and places one can participate in pro bono work. Thank you also for referencing our global directory. There are a myriad of ways an individual can volunteer online to help a charitable or non-profit organization.

Many Tasks Can Be Undertaken As an Internet Based Volunteer to Help a Non-profit Organization

Since 1998, our charitable organization, Macdonald Youth Services, has been at the forefront involving online volunteers from around the world to assist us in fulfilling our organizational mission. What do these highly-skilled online volunteers do? They perform a range of diverse tasks, such as professional voice overs (eg, for podcasts, PSAs), video editing/production, copywriting, Flash design, software development (Perl and PHP), database development and graphic design (eg, annual reports, posters, brochures) to name a few tasks.

To learn further information about our leading-edge program, we invite you to visit any of the following:

MYS Online Media Centre

Our online Media Centre includes extensive information about our online volunteer program, such as TV interviews, a list of news sources that have profiled our program, samples of highly-skilled online volunteers’ contributions and a list of international software vendors that have donated their fine software:

http://www.mys.ca/media

“About Online Volunteering” Blog

An additional source of information is our resource for sharing our successes with other non-profits and charities entitled “About Online Volunteering: Information Non-Profits Can Use (which includes an associated podcast). As a way of promoting our organization and concurrently recognize our online volunteers, we have a South Dakota-based (USA) Online Volunteer Audio Producer interviewing our online volunteers which we post as podcacts.

http://www.mys.ca/aov

Hopefuly this additional information will inspire others to consider some of the many ways that the Internet allows an individual to help a non-profit organization all from the comfort and convenience of their home-based computer.

Thank you for your interest in the work of the non-profit sector.

Randy Tyler, Volunteer Co-ordinator/Webmaster
Macdonald Youth Services
http://www.mys.ca/volunter
Winnipeg, Canada
Ph: 1-204-949-4292
E: http://www.mys.ca/cgi-bin/randy_email.cgi

10th March 2008 Quote

Comment: Thomas Stephan says

Thank you so much for your insightful commentary and links! I hope we can help each other to rise awareness of those many deserving non-profits in need of creative skills!

11th March 2008 Quote

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