Giving Back—What’s Your Number?

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© R Mitchell

Carrie De Simas

Editor in Chief @ GoneWithTheWord

Like most entrepreneurs, I get a lot of requests for my work on a pro bono basis. Charities, not-for-profits, startups, and community organizations contact me on a regular basis. Many of these groups are trying to do good things on minimal budgets. 

Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that most entrepreneurs are business people with bills to pay too.

As an entrepreneur myself, much of my livelihood comes from the time I spend working on paid projects. I write articles, draft marketing and PR copy, edit books and white papers and provide professional advice to a variety of startups and established organizations. 

So how do you decide who to help and who to turn away?

This is an important—and very personal—decision. Personally, I made the decision to give back where I could. A lot of people helped me and mentored me along the way and I would like to be that helping hand to others in return. A pay-it-forward mentality. It fits in with my personal values and professional brand.

But how much to give away for free? Can you put a number on it? 

I did. Twenty-five percent.

 That means that one-quarter of my time each year is spent on free work. I have worked for political persons, religious organizations, governments, colleges and business people. Some of them were paid and some were not. The projects I took on for free were based on how much of that 25% of free work time I had remaining.

Why take the time to put a number on your pro bono efforts? Two reasons:

  1. You need to give back in order to be successful. This gives you networking opportunities with people with whom you might not have otherwise interacted.  Giving away your time or expertise for free also projects an aura of success: Successful people can be philanthropists…those who are still struggling cannot.
  2. You need to know when to say no. You cannot work for free all the time. So if you know that 25% of your time is for low-income, or pro-bono work and you have hit that quota already, it is time to say no. Or if you know of another charitable venture that is coming up and you’re almost at the end of your allotted freebies, then it is time to say no. This helps you to avoid getting sucked into emotional response of yes when you know that you really don’t have the time or financial freedom to accept. 

It is important to know what you have to offer as an entrepreneur and the value you bring to your clients whether paid or not. But as with all relationships: know your boundaries too. By figuring out your limits, you will be more able to keep your work choices professional.

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