How to Give Half of Your Work Away for Free
At verynice, we have what many consider to be an “extreme” commitment to pro-bono service: For close to a decade, we have been giving at least half of our work away for free to non-profit organizations. I will be the first to admit that the model originated from an incredible amount of naiveté, but over the years we have stumbled upon a series of discoveries and “happy accidents” that have pointed toward the practice of giving half to be one that is not only possible, but necessary.
If you want to give half of your work away for free and do just as well as the next guy, the simple equation is that you have to do twice the amount of work that they do. As a result, one of the key components of the double-half methodology is an innovative approach to capacity building in which creative outsourcing and openness to remote collaboration is at the center. By bringing on teams on a per project basis as opposed to building a dedicated, permanent staff, monthly fixed costs are brought to a minimum which makes giving work away for free an affordable, if not overhead-less, endeavor. While paid projects employ paid contractors, unpaid/pro-bono projects pull from the same pool of contractors, but invite them to participate in the project on a volunteer basis.
Because the model thrives off of a high volume of work, the core competency of the permanent individual (or team if applicable) is management above all other skill sets. Typical roles of production are outsourced as often as possible and are overseen by the permanent team in order to drive focus and allow for successful time management.
While 100% of guaranteed revenue streams originate from only 50% of the clientele, an exchange of “value” still results from all projects regardless of the presence of monetary payment.
New contacts that are developed through pro-bono endeavors are leveraged in order to fuel word-of-mouth marketing which, in turn, serves as a primary referral base for new business leads. Small organizations are home to a staff that is, more often than not, working on a volunteer basis. These people have “day jobs” elsewhere. These day jobs can become a source of projects for you. Large organizations are not home to a volunteer staff, but they do house influential board members who are often CEOs of major corporations. These board members are a “foot in the door” to potential paid work from larger accounts that would otherwise not be within reach.
When you are doing something for free, more often than not, you are allowed more control over the scope and/or creative vision for a project then you would for a paid engagement. As a result, the work that is derived from unpaid clientele frequently allows for the piloting of an experimental idea or completely new category of service. In doing so, volunteer work serves as a tool for growth in a company’s experience and offering.
Non-profit organizations are spending billions upon billions of dollars each year on fees billed by service-providers. While expenditures for services like marketing and design grow each year, funding declines. In fact, in 2013, there were 62 billion dollars in cuts from federal funding for non-profit organizations. When you compare this to foundation funding which, in 2012, came to a total of 46 billion dollars, it is clear that the social sector is becoming overwhelmingly drained of resources. Traditional means of philanthropy alone can no longer take the only supportive seat at the table.
When a non-profit is able to save valuable financial resources thanks to the generous pro-bono commitments of service-providers, they are able to immediately re-invest those dollars directly into their cause. Imagine what a spare 8 billion dollars could do? As business owners, freelancers, and entrepreneurs, we need to do our part to alleviate expenses for non-profit organizations by making giving back an integral component of our business model. The double-half methodology is one way to do that.
From the Editor
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