Not-for-profit clients: should you work for free?

October 14, 2015

When talking with a prospective not-for-profit client it can feel somewhat "wrong" to broach the subject of charging money for your services. Unless the organisation has asked specifically for you to do pro bono (free) work, then you can assume that they are willing to pay for the work to be done. In order to kick that very large elephant out of the room, it's best to have a discussion about money as soon as possible.

Knowing whether or not your agency will be paid will affect a number of decisions you make, such as:

  • the priority that you will put on the work within your studio,
  • the time and effort you will invest,
  • the staff that you will allocate,
  • the quality of the work you will produce.

All work that your agency does for free means time away from other revenue-generating activities. However, an agency may be willing to donate their time and resources for a variety of reasons:

  • genuine altruism,
  • a personal interest in, or connection to the cause,
  • the organisation aligns with core values of the agency,
  • a not-for-profit's logo looks good in the client list,
  • bragging rights,
  • door-opening opportunities and networking,
  • tax benefits.

Many not-for-profits are quite able and willing to pay for agency services (even if their budget is small). Your agency may choose to offer reduced hourly rates or a flat percentage discount on the total invoice. That way the organisation still receives top notch work, in a timely manner, and for a good price; plus the agency is able to help whilst still making a profit. Win-win.

For organisations who are willing to pay an agency, every dollar counts. Whether the money has arrived via sponsorship, fundraising or donations, it's a safe bet to assume that every cent is precious and scarce. Therefore determining chargeout rates for projects, and accepting payments, should be treated with a high level of understanding and respect.

It's important for you and your agency to agree on the level of input you will invest into a not-for-profit client. If your agency works for free, what will be included/excluded? Will you treat the organisation with the same level of expertise, time and attention you would for a paying client? If not, what will the investment be, and has that been clearly communicated to the organisation?

Working with not-for-profits can be both challenging and rewarding. You'll often need to come up with champagne ideas on a beer budget, which will push your team's creativity and resourcefulness. In the agency-world of commercialism and the quest for the almighty dollar, it's a refreshing change to work on projects that truly matter and change lives. For that reason alone it's worth it for every agency to have at least one not-for-profit in their stable of clients. Go on, become a life-changer today!

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