To work pro bono simply means to work at no charge and/or to donate your work.
Often associated with lawyers and legal work, the pro bono term is expanding to cover other professionals including freelance writers.
Besides, it sounds a bit better, maybe, than writing for free.
However, before you immediately jump into giving your writing away, there are some things you should consider.
You’re worth paying
If you’re a decent writer, understand that many many people simply cannot string words together in ways that make sense. The ability, which in my opinion is first a gift, then a practice, is special. Oh sure, there are thousands of writers out there – official statistics in 2013 put the number at 145,900 in the U.S. Which seems incredibly low to me. Regardless, if you write reasonably well and you market yourself you deserve to be paid.
I’ve written about this, of course, here quite awhile ago, but I’ll stand by what I said there.
Pro bono writing can lead to paid writing
Tara Lynne Groth over at over at Write Naked wrote Why Pro-Bono Work is Worth More Than Paid Work. It’s a fun read and she gives real world examples of how writing for free led to paid work. Her argument is based on the idea that you need samples before you can expect to be paid.
What about those samples?
Many publications want to see samples of your writing before they are willing to hire you. I wrote No Writing Clips? No Problem! which aimed at helping you find credits you hadn’t thought of. Which works.
Pro bono writing also creates published samples, which certainly is one way to get the clips.
And if you have your own blog or even a professional writing site you can write samples and publish them there. Make sure they’re labeled samples and don’t try to pass them off as published work. Mostly editors want to be sure you can write and your samples demonstrate that. Sure, you’ll run into a few who feel you have to be published, officially, before they’ll take a chance; You needn’t worry about them too much.
Non-profits have a budget
Often it’s not-for-profit organizations that will push for no or at least reduced fees. What many writers (and others) overlook is almost every non-profit has a budget of some sort. Most have an amount set aside for public relations, or advertising, or promotion – some way to get the word about them out to the public. Non profits can often pay you from these categories. It simply makes sense to ask about those funds when you’re talking with them.
Many writers discount their fees by 10 percent, give or take, for non-profits. It’s something to consider. Just make sure you can afford the pay cut.
Pro bono writing is a great way to give back
Most of us have favorite charities or causes. Offering to do some pro-bono writing for them is a great way to give back. It will make you feel good, it will do some good, and it will get you some clips that might be helpful. You might even run into an individual who has a writing project they can’t afford to pay or pay much for.
Put boundaries on your pro bono writing
When you think about writing for free, put some boundaries on it. Figure out what kind of writing you want to do – blogging, press releases, etc. Pick something that’s either easy for you or that will teach you something (hat tip: Paula Hendrickson). Decide how much time you’re willing to donate and keep track of it. You might be able to deduct some of it – ask your tax person.
Does this make sense to you? What would you add?
Write well and often,