Pro Bono vs. Speculation Work

Pro Bono vs. Speculation Work

By: Nicola Sznajder
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Pro Bono or speculation work? You will come across freelance work and job postings that fit into at one of these categories but there is some confusion as to what each term means and if it is in your best interest to pursue any work in either one of these categories. 

Pro Bono

Pro Bono publico is defined as donating your expertise at no charge “for the public good.” This term is also used to describe organizations and charities that exist for the public good rather than for profits. Unlike volunteering, pro bono services differ because they use the specific skills of a professional within any given industry to provide their services for free or at a reduced rate. This applies to web designers, lawyers, plumbers, and so forth.

One of the biggest benefits of Pro Bono work is the tax breaks, but it also helps to launch businesses or careers by providing good references, good portfolio work, free press, and the possibility of more work in the future. When conducting pro bono work, make sure you are doing it for the right reasons by offering your services to a community or a cause that you actually care about. As a professional, there might be limitations to what you are offering, so be sure to write up a contract that clearly states what you are and are not providing. This will protect both yourself and the client. 

Some pitfalls to avoid when taking on pro bono work include taking on multiple clients. It is best to take on one pro bono client at a time in order to balance out paying and non-paying clients. Ensure that you specify some details such as a completion date and as well as defining the scope of the work before starting a project. Lastly this experience should be beneficial for both you and the client. If you are unable to see how you would benefit from this project then it may be in your best interests to take your services elsewhere.


Spec work

Speculation work is when you provide your services to develop creative work (even a finished product) for free or for a small fee as a part of a new business pitch. This is a more controversial topic since you are not giving your time and services for a not-for-profit organization, but for a company who is in the business of actually making money. You are more vulnerable and you can get scammed out of payment or spend hours on a project that doesn’t get picked up. The design community considers this type of work to undesirable and at times immoral since it is more beneficial for the client than it is for you. Spec work mostly comes in the form of design contests (like where a client is crowdsourcing different designs from several designers and then pick the one they like the best. As for the designer, you are spending a lot of time and effort at the small chance that you will be rewarded. Most designers that are involved in this type of work are looking for a portfolio pieces and getting their foot in the door but personally I believe there are better ways of getting your first start like volunteering or going pro bono.

If you would like to learn about the conversation against spec work then you can visit

Posted on November 20, 2014