While the benefits of giving all your art away for free on Tumblr and deviantART are well known, you still shouldn’t give it away for free to an entity that is otherwise profiting, says artist Mike Hawthorne in one of those occasional reminders that creative folks are the lowest on the food chain:

Please bear in mind that a non-profit does NOT mean no one is making money. When people write up business plans for an actual non-profit company they include plans for people’s salaries, costs of services, etc. No one would fund a non-profit that did not plan for paying salaries to people working at the company. So people running a non-profit get paid. IF they want to hire an illustrator, they should pay him/her too. Maybe not top rates, but they should offer something other than dreams of potential future gigs.

Let me ask you something. Let’s say one of this company’s toilets clogged and they were thinking of “hiring” a plumber. Let’s say they called a plumber and asked him or her to fix this toilet for free then if the plumber did a good job he or she could fix they’re pipes in the future should the need arise. How many plumbers do you think would be taking that job?

Above: Art from Hawthorne’s current assignment on Deadpool.


  1. A plumber might, however, decide to donate his services to install pipes in the local community center that non-profit is building. For instance.

  2. non profits come in many varieties. sometimes theyre worth working for “free” if you gain value from a particular non-profit publishing your work. a national ad campaign for a well known charity may be worth working for “free” depending on how much time you have to spend on it. or it could be a non-profit in name only that otherwise serves purely commercial interest (eg the National Association of Widget Purveyors), and an affiliation with which may not offer any non-monetary benefits to their vendors. in which case, hell no, don’t even offer a discount.

    so depending on the situation this is either really good or really useless advice.

  3. True, it depends. Also, donating services could be used as tax write-offs (if set up that way under *promotional service / advertising, etc.).

    Don’t get me wrong, I get what Mike Hawthorne is saying — and I agree to a point. Just not a black & white point. The analogy is a bit fluid, no pun intended.

  4. Its quite common for professional creatives to donate services (pro bono or reduced rate) and talent to a proper non profit organization. Usually if the agency or creative has a personal stake, it can be a great client. Many design/advertising agencies have a yearly pro bono client…a charitable group that they help out (build a website, branding etc) to give back to the community. Often times, the creative freedom you get and other business concerns are worth it. Not to mention the satisfaction of helping. I’ve worked with quite a few and they have been some of the best projects i’ve ever worked on.

    But this is all assuming the group has a cause that you really believe in and is set up properly and legally.

    In design school i was encouraged to do pro bono work if possible, and some of my first professional portfolio projects were for those types of clients. Its real work, with real clients out in the world…10000000x better than made up comps for an imaginary client in a student book. One of those projects got even me my first salaried design jobs. Getting compensated fairly isn’t always about cashing a check.

    However, a for profit business asking for “donations” is kinda scum baggy and all too common and those deserve a flat out “no”.

  5. There’s going to be exceptions to every rule. To be fair to Hawthorne’s point though, it’s all too common for people in creative fields to undersell themselves and to buy into the whole “great exposure” thing. None of the teachers at my school addressed fighting for fair compensation at all. If someone’s going to get their art school education through DeviantArt messageboards, there needs to be someone on there stressing this stuff too.

  6. I work freelance for various non-profits, almost exclusively. Some to pay the bills, some for dirt cheap, some pro-bono.
    The only advice I can give is to only work for free because it’s a project you believe in, make sure they know you are doing them a huge favor, and always make sure that the reason they aren’t paying you is because they really can’t afford you.

  7. If you do work for free, at least insist that they give you copies of your work, so you get something from them in exchange for your valuable time and talent.

  8. Hey everyone,

    I appreciate everyone’s opinions. I should stress that this was a student of mine who was approached by a for-profit company for a “no-profit” project.

    James, you hit the nail on the head. Many students turn to the internet for career guidance. I’m asked this question over and over online, so I thought I’d share the advice I gave this one student online as well.

    There are times when it’s great to donate your time. I do, several times a year. I run a yearly charity event called “The Comix Creator Cookout” where I cook for fans who come out to the event and they donate food to the event, which we in turn pass on to the Central PA Food Bank. I recently did an event where I drew free sketches for several hours as we collected food donations for the local Rescue Mission. I also do charity face painting about once a year at a local church. But it’s on my terms. That’s key for me. Jacob said it well, do it because you believe in it.

    These students are pouring money into their educations, and if someone is offering a job I’d like to see them paid something for their time. They are inundated by people looking for free art. I really can’t say that enough. Companies are preying on their desperation to get work, to “break in”.

    They have to begin to value their time, or no one else will.

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