Pro bono work; Where do you draw the line?


Just wondering what is ethical? offered some pro bono service in an attempt to procure actually billable projects. but were do we draw the line here?

Apr 14, 17 12:03 pm

My line is simple.  If the client truley cannot afford my service, and if that service will benefit the client and their family or their cause in a meaningful way, or if the project provides me with an opportunity for artistic growth, then I will do it pro-bono.  Other than up. 

Apr 14, 17 12:10 pm
x intern

I would draw the line at design images /schematic plans. Your liability doesn't diminish just because you didn't get paid if you Stamp a drawing.

Apr 14, 17 12:15 pm

at this point, im just providing basic code / zoning info and helping them to consider programing, spatial needs, arrangements etc. for a few customers of a small business startup center who are either putting business plans together or exploring the idea and need direction for their business min. required occupied space. I am there to help but would also like to pick up a few projects, but lately I feel its a little like picking up single moms at the park

Apr 14, 17 12:29 pm

I think helping them consider and doing it for them are two different things. Personally, I would be ok with helping them consider stuff without asking for money, and then if they want you to do work, ease them in with a small fee to start.


if you're doing a full on feasibility study, I would personally charge some kind of fee for that.


I do pro bono work for a non-profit, I give them 50-100 hours a year. I do drawings and designs, I help with organizing their projects, whatever they need. They buy me lunch often to pay me back. Other pro bono like for a business, I limit to just answering some questions, maybe some sketches, inspiring photos, pointing out other similar projects if it's helpful to them, perhaps look up a zoning code but never drawings or anything written like a code analysis, more like pointing them to the code and telling them how projects are permitted... zoning, then bldg dept, etc. No more than a few hours worth, enough to show they can work with me and want to and no deliverables is my rule. 

Apr 14, 17 12:43 pm

^ this is basically the direction its going & similar initial reason for getting involved, but no drawings, sketches or paid lunches. Thanks


tintt is essentially performing what i have done. for me, it also depends on the mission of the business, i have assisted with some for profits, but they had a community mission as part of their business component.


I work in a rare environment, resort community of uber wealthy, mostly 3rd and 4th show-off homes; so everybody in the industry is accustomed to large budgets with no complains - and here's where the system doesn't work; for residents that aren't wealthy, there is no alternative but to use the same professionals that do millions most of the time. I've tried to be of help to those people, that come with a master suite addition, or an interior infill for a loft; I charge them only expenses once the project is built and finished, but I don't get involved in approvals or contractor selection, or finishes, just drawings and directions to navigate. Not pro-bono strictly but something.

Apr 14, 17 12:51 pm

Even my first consultation is billed, that's some of the most valuable information they'll receive why would it be free? Ever since my first project where I did a bunch of pro bono work and then had my client say, "our CFO is really impressed with how much you've provided...pause....and for how little." I never did free work again. If it's not worth it to someone to pay for, it's either not worth your time to do in the first place or you aren't explaining its value correctly.

Apr 14, 17 7:12 pm

I guess a better explanation is if they don't want to pay but I get questions like "are we zoned for this, what's the permitting process/ fees, do we really need drawings ect." I'll send links to the city ordinance, fee schedules and generic city structural details for approval. It does a good job of getting your point across of this stuff is actually pretty complicated you can pay me to answer these questions in two days or sift through it yourself for a few weeks and mess it up anyway.

Apr 14, 17 7:18 pm

How I determine the limits of pro-bono work is to sum up the cost, labor, liability, supplies and printing and compare to the benefits such as good will, community and sometimes it is good to do a small fun project in the office and engage people in a short little thing so coworkers and staff don't get burned out detailing bathrooms or office test fits and get a chance to grow as a designer for a day or two long project.

Sometimes the benefits are internal to your firm as well as for the community. I do have a hard line for non for profit and government NGO type of places only. If you are a business you should pay for professional services, even if those are at a discount or are given as a loss leader towards future work.

Over and OUT

Peter N

Apr 15, 17 11:30 am

Just wondering what is ethical? offered some pro bono service in an attempt to procure actually billable projects. but were do we draw the line here?

As a general policy, I only do pro bono services with non-profit clients and some special exceptional cases others that may not be non-profits provide services at zero dollar fee level.

Note: Not all non-profits clients would necessarily be a case where I would provides services pro bono. 

Apr 15, 17 1:02 pm

The best times in one's professional life are when you are comfortable enough to do pro bono work, because it means you're earning and are in a position to give back.

Apr 15, 17 7:47 pm

I do only pro-boner work

[sorry, I just had to...]

Apr 15, 17 11:58 pm

But is it cheaper than pills

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