How to volunteer your services without killing yourself

I’ve done quite a bit of work for non-profit organizations (typically churches) on their websites. The first few times I did it, I ended up getting burned by the experience but then made some adjustments to the way that I worked which changed everything and made it much more pleasant and fulfilling.

It usually goes something like this. You get involved in some non-profit cause. They find out that you’re a web designer/developer. They say, “Hey we need a website! Can you make it?” So you say, “Yeah! I can!” So away you go! You start designing and building prototypes and show it to them, and suddenly they become very client-like. “I don’t like this”, “Can you change this?”, “Can you add this feature?”, etc. Soon you’re frustrated. You’re thinking, “I’m doing this for free. Can’t they appreciate that?”

This was certainly how I felt for two church websites I built. I started building the website. They loved the progress but kept wanting changes and features and wouldn’t stop! They weren’t doing it maliciously — they just couldn’t stop because they saw progress that they liked and just wanted it to be better.

Here’s what I did to turn things around.

Make it official that you are donating your services

It’s good to donate your services. But let’s call it that. Be a business-person about it and be official about it. Speak to the relevant authorities in the organization that they are engaging you as a contractor but that you are donating your services to the organization.

Put a dollar value on your services

The last church website I did, I basically presented to the Pastor that I would donate up to $10,000 of my services to the church to design and build the church website. This would cover work, changes, maintenance, support, hosting, etc up to a year. By putting a dollar value on the services, the organization knows how much value they are getting and they appreciate it a lot more.

Track time and equivalent market value

One thing that frustrated me before was that the organizations I did work for kept asking for changes. What I ended up doing was logging time and producing estimates for changes. I shocked the Pastor one day when he asked for a significant change in the way that his sermons were being displayed (it was a fundamental database schema change, among other things). For him it was simple – he just wanted it shown this other way. But for me it was at least 20 hours of additional work! I put a dollar value on the changes and told him, “Hey this ‘little’ change you’re asking for will take 20 hours of my time and in real market value is worth $1000.” Are you sure you want to do this? He immediately took a step back and said, “Actually it’s not necessary.”

Hold them to a budget. They will respect that.

Final words

So… if you’re going to volunteer, that’s good. I applaud that. Just do it wisely. Don’t burn yourself!

What do you guys think? Have any horror stories of doing stuff for free? Have any tips? Comment below.

 

Leonard Teo

It's my blog!