Creative Cadence
Design for lone marketers

Views from the studio

Views from the studio

Turning charity work on its head. Does free design work pay?


I used to be sceptical about doing design work for free when I first started out, even for a legitimate charity. I had a fairly black and white view about being paid for the work that I did. ‘Advice’ from many freelance design blogs rang in my ears. “Never work for free”. “Never do design work for family members”.

However, when I started the business, I also decided I wanted to work with some types of clients I’d never worked with before. I wanted to work with some clients where I really cared about what they did. This, in contrast to some previous full-time design positions, where I’ve simply had to work for the clients on that particular agency’s client list – regardless of whether I agree or care for their principles.

The following mini case studies show three examples of clients I now work with (on a paid-for basis). I originally began working with these clients on a charitable basis, either by approaching them, or vice versa.

Life Cycle UK

A Bristol-based charity offering simple, practical, targeted support to help more people unlock the benefits of cycling. I’d been following Life Cycle on social media for a couple of years already and really liked what they were doing. They work with adults and children, including those with disabilities, on helping them get out cycling. Adult courses help those who’d like to ride or commute in the city, but lack the confidence. Children’s courses in schools (Bikeability) teach safety, awareness and confidence on bikes. They also offer group rides and training for those suffering from mental wellbeing issues, as well as tandem rides for the visually impaired, so they can share the joy of cycling.

I approached Life Cycle back in 2013, meeting up with marketing manager Ed Norton to offer some free design services. When we met, he said that for years they’d been wanting to create an infographic explaining how their Bike Back project worked, so they could display it in the workshop as well as share online. Bike Back takes donations of unwanted bicycles from the public and teaches prisoners at HMP Bristol the mechanic skills to strip down, repair and rebuild them. Once fixed, bikes are sold on at affordable prices to help people on lower incomes to get a bike, start cycling and reduce their transport costs.

You can see the finished infographic below. Once completed, the relationship built with Life Cycle then led to me being commissioned (on a paid basis) by Ed and the chief executive of Life Cycle, Poppy Brett to design their short annual report. We’ll also be working on the 2016 version very soon.

Cycle Sunday

A proactive group of families in North Bristol who want their children to grow up fit and healthy. They want them to confidently use a sustainable form of transport and to learn how to ride bicycles on the road in a way that is safe for them and everyone else.

Back in August 2014, Cycle Sunday asked the Downs Committee to grant permission for a series of three Sunday morning road closures on Circular Road during Bristol Green Capital 2015. Initially they were turned down because at the time, the committee felt that closing the road “wasn’t worth the disruption for just a few families”.

The Cycle Sunday group were curious about the nature of the disruption that closing Circular Road might cause so monitored the Downs’ users on four Sunday mornings during September and October 2014. They found that 31% of people were travelling by car; the other 69% were walking, running or cycling. They also thought that many more families would be interested, so set up an online petition. It received 1,000 signatures in the first 48 hours.

Since then, four Cycle Sunday events have been held on the Downs, with a great turn out from local Bristol families. We originally agreed to help this group with free design for some marketing materials (posters, flyers and social media graphics), after seeing a shout-out on Facebook. Since then, we’ve worked (on a paid-for basis) on the other three events, which have been sponsored by Life Cycle and Sustrans and put us in touch with marketing contacts there.

Changes Bristol

Changes provides support groups for people suffering from mental distress. We first got to know them through an ex-work colleague posting a request for design help on LinkedIn. Having discussed their needs we agreed to support them with a mini audit, to try to bring cohesion to an existing brand that volunteers were struggling to use, or at least all using very differently. Through this process we’ve created simple brand guidelines and presentation templates.

We’re now in the process, literally this week, of meeting with them to discuss paid work going forwards that will help them with a printed leaflet, pull-up display banner and stationery templates – all to help communicate their services more easily to those that need them.

In conclusion

It’s difficult to know whether offering design work on a charitable basis will ever turn into paid work. Many people would say that that’s not the point and that we should be working on a charitable basis because we want to do so. Even for the paid work, we still offer more reasonable rates to reflect our genuine wish to help these charities. At the end of the day, I think it’s about building relationships, and if those relationships lead to further work, then that’s a bonus. Choosing whether or not to work on a charitable basis is a personal decision individuals and businesses have to take. In the case of design, even if it doesn’t lead to further invoice-able work, we can put the finished pieces into our portfolio and talk about it with other potential clients. This, in itself, will help us to market the business and may lead to work from businesses in a field that interests us.

Your charity stories?

This article is just our experience and we’d love to hear your views on working on a charitable basis. Have you had great experiences which you’ve used as case studies? Or would you rather stick to the paid work and keep your charitable donations on a personal level? Let me know.