I passionately believe you should always give back to the community when owning a business — or even just because you should. I am a professional graphic designer who on occasion has been asked to donate my services. I do donate, but must be careful not to give too much away.
I have been told several times that I could use free services as a tax write off. My tax attorney is adamant that there are NO tax write offs on a service. My services of design are most certainly free unless I can barter.
Businesses and non for profits really do embrace the idea of bartering (giving something free and getting something free in return), especially in tough times. Some of my favorites are silent auctions with dinner included. In one case, I provided an invite and a program for a local organizations silent auction. I received a night out with my husband and friends and was able to do a little networking as well. It was a win as well for the client because I had chosen friends who I knew enjoyed auctions and were willing to buy.
Another example was swapping design for wine. That was great. I provided some free design services and the owner of the wine store helped me pick out some really interesting wines to share with friends and family.
I have also donated my talents to charities and received incredible gratitude for the job I have done, and received referrals along the way as an additional reward.
I truly believe people want to pay for services but when times are tough it is time to give a little and be creative about what the return is, whether dinner and dancing, wine, or just a thank you.
Some advice for recent graduates:
Seasoned professional designers have already built their reputations and portfolios. Free for them means networking opportunities and giving back to the community. But for all those young designers who are graduating from school and want to improve their portfolio and believe that giving away design is the best way to do it: Please don’t.
Unless you have a real passion for the company or charity you are doing this for it really doesn’t help you or the profession. Please try to get something in return. It teaches respect and helps build confidence. In the end you will have more than just a portfolio piece you will have earned appreciation and respect for your talents.