How to work for free and keep your sanity

If you make websites, surely you've had some friend or relative say "Hey, can you make a site for my non-profit group?" … you think, I'm a nice person and this cause is just. And here's some extra practice and something to put on my portfolio, SURE! Not a problem. I have recently had a frustrating experience with something like this and I've learned a few things…

The group should appoint a "Point Man" (or woman)
The group should choose one member who will be the point person for you. They and only they will be the one giving you content. Its very hard when you get content from one person, content from another. Especially when they are not coordinated among themselves and you end up with two similar documents, which one is right?

State your preferred method of contact
Determine the best method of contact. For me, I'd rather email since I lead a busy life (what, your life doesn't revolve around my group?!?!). I've had people call me, email me and emailing stuff to one person who then forwarding to me who then calls me to tell me I have email. Promise the person that when you receive their email you will respond "Got it!" so they won't feel it necessary to call you and tell you. If they haven't heard from you in a day, then tell them to call you.

State your preferred media
Do you prefer to receive content by email, pdfs, paper documents? I, personally don't have time to type up stuff so I told them, I need everything typed up and everything scanned (my scanner is broken, for real!).

Get most of the content BEFORE you design
This is usually the last to get done because well I wish I knew. Most sites have pages like:

  • About - tell about the group, how, when and why
  • Contact Us - email, address, phone (also maybe a contact form)
  • Homepage - brief introduction about the site
  • FAQ - could be optional depending on the group

Get the content ready first. Then you will know they are serious and you will not be wasting your time. Then design the site.

Give them a deadline
Tell them the basic content (above) needs to be done by a certain date. Be reasonable, a month or two. Most people in a non-profit have a paying job so they are busy. Tell them you are busy too, and if they don't have the content done by a certain date, you will have to re-evaluate your schedule and you may not have time for awhile. If they know they have limited access to you and your skills, they might move along a little faster.

Site Updates
After the site is built, ask them to appoint a person to give you updates. Maybe offer to show someone else how to update it (prepare to be called months later and asked, what's my password?). Better yet, show two people. You may want to write a document with instructions to give them.

Write up a contract
This probably won't be a legal document, but it will line out the things above so everyone is clear. Have them make copies for each person in the group so everyone knows whats going on. Since you made the site, tell them in exchange for doing it for free you will have your link to your site on the page somewhere.

I volunteered the other day to do another freebie site for someone (shoot me now!) and I hope to use what I've learned to do this one a little better and not make me pull my hair out. I hope these tips will help you as well.