Am I nice guy or a chump?

I'm a sucker for a good cause. I like to help people with their passions. I'm a giver. And, I do way too much pro bono work.

Not too long ago I wrote a post about using your professional skills to benefit others. It was a well-received piece and I do believe in helping those who need it.

In my case, I'm pretty confident in my writing abilities. What it might take others hours or days to do, I can write up fairly quickly. Given my background, I have written a variety of materials for friends, acquaintances, and small nonprofits. From press releases and bios to brochures and website content, I've pounded on the keyboard countless times for free just to help others. I have also provided way too many people with free social media training because I knew they could really use the help. Should I have charged? Well, a smart business person would have. Sometimes I think I'm not that smart.

This week, someone who operates a great nonprofit group asked me to write something for her. I obliged. Per usual, when I send someone a draft, I tell them to let me know if they have any edits. I'm happy to tweak what I write if my facts are wrong or if I'm way off base. In this case, the person responded to my draft with the following comment, "I think you can do better". 

Now, keep in mind, this person asked for my help. I said yes. I provided a well-written piece. My thanks? I can do better. I can do better?

The person went on to give me additional direction that should have been provided before I even started to write. And, although it's annoying to have wasted my time and effort on the first draft, I could have lived with it. If, and I said if, the woman in question had been kinder in her request for a revision. How about "Could we concentrate more on XYZ than ABC?" Or maybe, "Would you mind playing up the blankety blank feature a little more?" Absolutely! Can do! Happy to give you what you need! But "I think you can do better"? Really? That just made me angry.

I've been burned quite a few times while doing pro bono work. My mom says I'm a sap for continuing to offer people the benefit of my professional skills. What is that saying about people not valuing things that they get for free? Well, I have to admit--reluctantly--that there may be some truth to that.

Will I continue to help people who desperately need some guidance? Yeah, sure. Will I still offer a hand to those who are trying to support a worthwhile cause? Of course. It's who I am. Am I schmuck for that? Maybe.

I offer this story as a reminder to be considerate if you are ever the beneficiary of someone's good will. It takes so little to be kind. And, for the record, "you can do better" is anything but appreciative.


  1. ugh. How awful. What was that person thinking? I wonder how she'd feel if her boss said, after each assignment, "You can do better." Or, upon showing up at work in a new outfit, a coworker said the same. It's not just that she appears to not value free assistance, but her comment was amazingly unhelpful and downright condescending and rude. I hope she the exception rather than the rule in your career. I'm sure that's the case.

  2. Jean, thanks so much for your words of support!

    Writing is, indeed, subjective so I always accept the fact that some degree of revision may be necessary. That's fine with me. It was just those words. So amazingly shocking to me.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, Jean. Lesson learned on my part.

  3. Amber, you are the sweetest person ever~!! Continue to do pro bono, it will come back to you =) Stay fabulous~!!!
    Anita @ModelSupplies
    PS Hope those receiving pro bono are nicer in the future =)

  4. Thanks so much, Anita. I appreciate the support.

    You know you're a real blogger when every experience in your life is content, right? :-> Oh well, onward and upward...

  5. I am of two minds here. While I do a fair amount of free work, I find that "free" comes with a cost: more demands. When I do something for free, I make it clear what I'm offering. Usually, I try to limit it my efforts to one draft and they can take it from there. That said, I think in this new world where free has become the norm, it's wise to attach a monetary value to your work.It's good for the writer and for the "client." I occasionally invoice free work at my rate, and then waive it. It's important for people to understand that good work has a value.

  6. Love, love, love that, Carol! An invoice that indicates value? Brilliant!

    I always offer one revision with my pro bono work, which is usually not necessary since I spend time with the client beforehand to ensure a quality draft. The billing part is certainly an extra step, but it sounds so very smart. I will most definitely start doing that. Love, love, love that idea!

    Thanks so much for adding your thoughts and for sharing your ideas on the matter, Carol! And, although you provided your idea to us for free, know that I appreciate it--and you--for doing so. Feel free to send me a waived invoice. :->


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