Why Designers Should Do Volunteer Projects
As designers, it isn’t often that we get to do something good for the community with our talents. Taking on one charity project a year doesn’t have to eat up a lot of time and it can benefit you in many ways, aside from that warm and fuzzy feeling you get from helping others. Even if you are a Grinch who doesn’t want to help anyone, I’m still going to convince you to work for free because not only does it help the less fortunate, there are a ton of benefits for you as well.
It is funny. When we were design students we had all the creative freedom we wanted, to put together a portfolio of factitious products and design mockups. To redesign our favorite websites and try out different styles as we chose. But once we hit the job world a lot of that freedom and creativity disappeared. It was replaced with clients with specific tastes, budgets and deadlines. The really juicy, creative project come few and far between. And when they do there might not be a big enough budget for you to really take your time and get creative the way you want.
It may be a case of the grass is always greener but students want to do client work and professionals want to do creative work. For the seasoned designer, doing a project for a charity or non-profit gives the perfect opportunity to let your creativity loose.
Most charities and non-profits have little or no money to spend on design work. Many times they try to do it on their own. So when you contact them and offer your services, for free, they are going to be way more inclined to let you create the design you want to make. And of course you get to choose who to work for, not the other way around. So find a cause you feel really passionate about or maybe there is a really fun charity event that happens in your community. Either way, find a project and get designing.
You can fight to get your portfolio seen the hard way or you can put your work out in front of people the easy way. Charities and non-profits get tons of exposure. They are constantly in need of funds so there are lots of events and lots of advertising. Doing design for them puts your work out in front of a lot of eyeballs. If you want to do work in the community where you live there is really no better way to put yourself out there than by doing design for the bigger non-profits in the area.
One example is animal shelters. Their websites get tons of traffic from people looking for lost pets or wanting to get a pet.
Launch Your Freelance Career
Maybe you are tired of working for the man. Doing a volunteer project for a non-profit or charity is an excellent way to test the waters and get experience working on your own. You can treat it exactly like a paid gig with a design proposal, client meetings, a contract, deadlines, everything. Just with a client that is a whole lot easier to deal with.
Being a successful freelancer is all about being able to demonstrate your expertise. But if you haven’t spent a lot of time giving your pitch, talking clients out of a bad design choices, and explaining your design process, you are going to be in for a rough time. A volunteer project is a great way to practice without the fear of losing income. The biggest weakness of a freelancer who is just making enough money to survive is, they cave to the clients every wish, because they cannot afford to do otherwise. A volunteer project has none of the pressure so you should feel confident letting the client know exactly what needs to be done. With that confidence you will be setting yourself up for a much easier go at working for yourself.
Not only is the experience invaluable but you should get a nice testimonial from them and possibly some name-drops, which could lead to paid gigs.
Recharge Your Design Battery
Is there some type of design that you have been just itching to do but you know your clients would never go for it? These kinds of projects are the perfect opportunity to experiment with something new. A fundraising event promotional page might be a great place to try out a parallax design. Or maybe you never get a chance to use your illustration skills, so design a poster using your illustrations.
The point is, volunteer work is the perfect way to recharge and get your creative juices flowing again. It is pretty hard for people to turn down free and really, anything you come up with they should be happy with, because it is better than the nothing they had before.
Build Your Network
Do some design work for a charity event and guess what, you’ll probably be a guest at that event. Charity events are great places to rub elbows with business owners in your community. And you don’t have to try and sell yourself because you have a mutual interest with the people there. Just talk about the cause and mention that you helped by doing the design.
Client Work With Less Hassle
With volunteer work you can choose the client and most times set the timeline for the project. This gives you flexibility and allows for enough time to be as creative as you want to be. If you are tired of being told by clients what to do even though you are the design expert, you won’t have to take it on this project. Finding a charity or non-profit client who will be happy with whatever design you come up with is easier than you think.
Fill Portfolio Gaps
Is there a certain style or type of work missing from your portfolio? Perfect time to do a volunteer project. Find an organization that needs that type of project done or just mention it to one you would like to do work for and see if they agree. Most likely they will.
Produce Work You Can Be Proud Of
Sometimes we just don’t get the chance to make the quality of work that we know we are capable of. It could be the client’s dog turd logo that ruins every project. It could be their back-seat designing. Or maybe the clients you have pay well but just aren’t very glamorous (like plumbers, lawyers, bail bondsman). Whatever the reason a volunteer project allows you to do the quality of work you want to do. If you don’t like their logo, design a new one. Don’t give them the option of having an opinion, just hand off the design when complete.
By doing a volunteer project or two you get exposure, networking opportunities, and a chance to grow as a designer. The monetary reward isn’t there but there are plenty of other rewards that can be just as valuable. So go find a cause you are passionate about and get involved. Or if you want to do it strictly for personal gain, find a local non-profit that will get you noticed. Either way, a volunteer project should be on your 2012 to-do list.