Barter and Pro Bono

Maybe because of the rough economy, maybe just the luck of the draw, I have been getting tons of requests lately to do sites for barter or pro bono. Which means I have been spending a lot of time feeling really guilty, because 99.9% of the time, my answer to these requests is going to be no.

Am I a cold-hearted, money-grubbing, greedy, unfeeling woman? Jeesh, I hope not. Rather than try to explain it every single time it comes up, I am just going to blog it out and get it over with.


First, let me say that I love barter. When I first started out, designing web sites in my free time outside of my full-time job, it was a great way to add to my then-small portfolio and get some really neat stuff I would not have otherwise splurged on.

The problem is that this is no longer my “free time” job – this is my job job. I work more hours than I did when I had full-time employment. If I spend hours on a project for barter, that is hours I am not spending on a paying project, and sadly, the electric company does NOT barter.

There are rare exceptions – if there is something I was already planning to spend money on, then I love to barter for it! But that is the key – it has to be something I would have spent the money on anyway. So if I wanted to buy a moped (I don’t) and was already budgeting for the purchase, with the total intention of purchasing one, and then I had a chance to barter for it – that’s a win! Saving that money is the same as making it at the end of the day. But say a shop has beautiful clothes that I would love to own but don’t intend to buy (even though I love them; maybe they are just too dang expensive for me), then it is not really a win. I am not saving any money, because I wasn’t planning to spend that money. I am in fact out money, because the project takes time away from paying clients.

Pro Bono

It is not true that I don’t do pro bono projects. The truth is I have done several – always for organizations I am personally involved in. There are thousands of really great causes out there, but I have enough on my hands just helping out with the ones I already do. I simply can’t afford the time to create web sites for the many great causes that contact me.

The common argument I get when someone asks me to create a free site for them is that I would get a fat tax write off and lots of exposure from having my link on their site. The truth is that the IRS does not give write offs for services and intangible goods. I would be better off just donating money for you to use to pay someone to create a web site for you. (Please don’t ask me to do that either – I give already, trust me.)

As for the exposure – the referrals I get from the pro bono sites I do all tend to be other organizations wanting me to do pro bono work for them. Therefore, this does not compensate for the loss of paid hours from doing the work for free.

So judge me if you will – if I offend by declining to work for free or for barter, then imagine if someone asked you to give up a percentage of your paycheck so that you could receive something you were not really in the market for, or for a cause that you are not involved with. As a good-hearted person, you might do it once or twice for a friend. But then imagine 5 or 6 or more people were asking you to do that every month, or even every paycheck. This is the position I often feel in, and have decided to just have a policy of no barter or pro bono clients, except in the rare exceptions noted above. I appreciate your understanding.

2 Responses to “Barter and Pro Bono”

  1. kerstin

    I think bartering is a good way to save money. You may come across goods you would never buy but would think about bartering for it, just because it’s there. But if you take it seriously and really search for things you need you can make good deals! I barter myself (on for a few weeks now, and already saved a lot of money for birthday presents. It’s really worth it!!

  2. Jenny

    Sure, it is a great way to save money – but again, only if I was going to spend that money on whatever product or service anyway. Otherwise it is just more stuff – maybe great stuff, but still, not something that helps me pay the bills. I have actually bartered for gifts for my husband and friends, but it is always a case of me contacting the person to purchase whatever it was, and them saying “Hey, I need some work done on my web site anyway, let’s just trade!” That is a total win-win. I love that.