About a year ago, I made a policy that I don’t do volunteer work related to my field. And I told people.

I will gladly get in a lobster suit for charity, I just won't do anything that involves a computer. (This isn't me, but I did offer to do it.)

I will gladly get in a lobster suit for charity, I just won’t do anything that involves a computer. (This isn’t me, but I did offer to do this. Just for the record.)

99% of people totally got it… and some even said it was a ‘great idea’.  About 1% don’t say anything (and secretly think I am a jerk I’m sure).

Note that the lack of volunteer work is in my field only. I will happily lug boxes for the food pantry. I will help clean my church during spring cleanup. My help just doesn’t come in the form of a website, blog, social media, or email newsletter.



There are a few solid reasons for that:

1) Less time at the computer. For someone who once had carpal tunnel and tendonitis in both arms, being at a computer 8-10 hours a day, 5 days a week is enough for my body. More seems like asking for trouble.

2) Get to do/learn new stuff. Although I get to problem solve all day, it’s fun to solve a completely not-typical-for-me problem or learn to do something completely new. Sometimes this knowledge (like taking on credit card processing for the MDI Seafood Festival) ends up being helpful in my daily work, though sometimes it doesn’t. I’m fine with either.

3) Heads off bad leads. The other day at Rotary, one of the other members said to me, ‘This non-profit was asking me about you because they need a cheap website and I told them you don’t do volunteer work.’ I could have kissed her. If I am going to lose money on a project (and I’ve gone over why websites cost what they do and why social media marketing costs money), I don’t want to do it as part of the business.



4) It’s not fair. For awhile, my policy was to do three volunteer projects a year. If you hadn’t gotten to me in January, basically it was a no go. But ‘you helped so and so’ worked against me when I said no to a new volunteer project. So even though I helped three organizations FOR FREE, I was still being guilted. Now to give you an idea of the workload, there are more than 400+ non-profits on the island I live on. Just the island itself. Add to that my actual family and friends who don’t make a ton of money who I’d like to help and you see a workload I could never take on for a reduced rate, let alone for free. So I just charge everyone the same so no one can feel slighted.

5) People don’t value what they can get for free. I once volunteered for a very big website project for a non-profit that had ‘no money’. It took over 100 hours of my time and made the lives of all involved easier. I took phone calls nights and weekends. I came on site three times for staff training. Three years after, when they had a budget for a website redesign, did they come to me for a bid? Nope, they went straight to a competitor. I was mad, not because I didn’t get the project but because I wasn’t even considered for the job. My theory: when you get it for free, you don’t value it, even if it is awesome. Paying for something means thinking about what you want… and the time involved for someone else to do it. Both of these mean the person is happier with the end product, even if it is actually crappier.

6) I have a big enough portfolio. When someone tells me their project could ‘build my portfolio’, I have to smile. I’ve been doing this six years. I’ve helped build over 100 websites. I have worked with over 300 companies and non-profits with online marketing. (P.S. It’s kind of condescending to a professional to imply they need to build their portfolio, especially when you have not looked into their actual past work.) Every paid project I’ve ever done has helped build my portfolio, and will continue to do so. Volunteering is something I do for good, not to further my business.

So if you are looking for a cheap or free website, I suggest you go elsewhere… but if you have insulation you need sprayed in the crawlspace of your homeless shelter or want some bread baked for your cocktail party fundraiser for the local skate park, I’m actually pretty good at those things too.