Freelancing and Volunteering: A Good Combination
This time of year, there are a lot of opportunities to volunteer. Lots of non-profits are looking for help to do holiday donation drives and many have special projects to help people out around the holidays. Just about every non-profit could use a spare pair of hands — and many of them need specialized help, like design or copy writing.
I have an easy time of justifying not helping to myself: I’m short on time, my income isn’t as steady as someone with a day job or I’ve got my own obligations to focus on. But these are just excuses. I’m reminded every year around this time, that volunteering is important and that I can help out in ways that many others can’t, just because I’m a freelancer. The number of organizations that rely on volunteers is huge and many of them are working on issues that we feel very strongly about.
Freelancers can actually volunteer at the same time we’re working. Sometimes an organization needs something as simple as someone to answer phones during hours when other volunteers aren’t available. If you’re able to work from anywhere with an internet connection, you may be able to fill in as necessary while still getting work done. It’s just a question of thinking about how you can be a good fit with a particular non-profit.
I’ve been known to drag a laptop along to events where a group I was passionate about needed someone to man a table. There were a few stops and starts on my work as people came up to the table, but I got to both help out and cover my own obligations. No other volunteer would have been able to do something similar for this organization, because everyone else had a full-time job they had to be at during the day.
Small non-profits usually wind up parceling out tasks to volunteers more on the basis of who is available than who has the right skill set. This approach can lead to brochures written entirely in Comic Sans or website copy with more than a few grammatical errors. By volunteering to handle specific types of projects, you can support a cause with the skills you’ve built up over the years. You may even be able to make it easier for other volunteers to get involved or for supporters to make donations.
While money is hopefully not the most important consideration when a freelancer helps a non-profit organization, there are some ways to earn tax deductions for volunteering: any supplies you have to purchase specifically to complete the project, for instance, are typically tax deductible. You can’t deduct the actual time you spent directly, unfortunately, but you may have some options for other tax deductions if you talk to your tax preparer about your specific situation.
Volunteering, Not Working
It’s worth noting that I’m talking about volunteering — not working for free. There are plenty of people that are happy to ask a freelancer to ‘volunteer’ on a project just because they don’t want to pay. These projects aren’t usually for non-profits or organizations that focus on helping others.
Volunteering is time you’re willing to devote to an organization that is working on a problem you feel strongly about. Skip those projects that are just cases of someone trying to get work done for free and focus on folks you actually want to help.