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  1. #1
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    Volunteering services for FREE - Should I have a contract?

    Hi,
    I'm new to the forums, so thanks for reading my issue.

    I'm a new freelancer, and am volunteering my Web Design services, for free, to a university club. I would like to get some advice on whether or not I should have them sign a contract. I'm not going to charge them anything, but I think that a contract would at least be professional and would allow me to document what I've done for the group. I've had a client before that I didn't do a contract for, and they ended up railroading me. It's made me wary to NOT have a contract again, no matter what the situation!

    So what do you guys think? Should I make a contract for them and have them sign it? Or would it be more trouble than it's worth? Any alternatives? And if I make a contract, what are some important objectives that I should include in it?

    Many Thanks!

    -Malysha

  2. #2
    SitePoint Zealot supermighty's Avatar
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    I would have a contract if it is for any project of considerable size. Even if it is free. That way your client knows exactly what they are getting and won't expect any more than that.

    As a new freelancer myself I would run the free client through the exact same process as a pay client (assessment, proposal, quote, work, launch) just to get a good feel for my client workflow process.

  3. #3
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    welcome Malysha.

    Pretend you are charging for the work. Your own experience shows that you should have a contract. Further, soon you will want to charge people and you will definitely benefit from having your processes/documentation 'sorted'.

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    I agree with the above. Like supermighty said, a contract will specify who is responsible for providing what in the relationship so there are no misunderstandings. You should also cover things like copyright and ownership of the work/elements.

    It may take some extra time in admin but it will be worth it and make you look more professional.

    You might also want to look into whether this work would be classed as a donation to the university and possibly be tax deductible (don't know, will depend on your local tax laws etc). If so you will definitely want to have all the work signed off and documented correctly.

  5. #5
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    Thanks everyone so much for the replies so far All you three have really good points, and assure me that my initial thoughts were correct: A contract is definitely the way to go.

    I do agree,relativity, that having an actual contract typed up will definitely help me when I start charging people. At least I will have one that I can alter and modify, with respect to my client. And you're right supermighty, having a contract drawn out will help keep client expectations within a certain range, which is very beneficial.

    Thanks for the tip jantheman regarding tax deductible work. I'm not sure if I can claim this as a volunteering tax deduction. I read on another forum that you can't deduct "services," and that web design was included as a service unfortunately. But classifying it as a "donation" sounds really promisng, I'll look into it

    I wish I would have started work on one sooner than tonight, but I still have until 2pm until I meet with them, so I'm sure I can make one up quickly.

    Any other suggestions are more than welcome as well. Thanks so much!

    -Malysha

  6. #6
    SitePoint Wizard
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    I would have a contract and i would look into if you can deduct service or not. Not sure but i thought it could be deducted.

  7. #7
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    Yeah, check into the donation thing. Like I said, I don't know too much about it - I think it may have to be to a registered charity, but I have a feeling educational institutions may also be included. Check with your accountant.

  8. #8
    Life is short. Be happy today! silver trophybronze trophy Sagewing's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rcj662 View Post
    I would have a contract and i would look into if you can deduct service or not. Not sure but i thought it could be deducted.
    In the US, it cannot be deducted. Only hard expenses.
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    SitePoint Guru rageh's Avatar
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    Have a contract and mention in the contract exactly what you will NOT do as well as what you will do for them. Then there is no room for misunderstanding as far as their expectation is concerned. That is the main point of having a contract in place. So without doubt, you need to have a contract signed and dated.
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  10. #10
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    I'm going the opposite way than the rest on this one. Better not have a contract that bind you to anything. You have no upside in this project (except feeling good).

    If you really want to do a contract make it simply say that the services is provided free, as is, and that you do not take any responsibility for neither direct nor indirect damage that may rise as a result of the work and that you give no guarantees. Also add that the contract can be dismissed anytime for no reason.

    Do not specify anything that you should do. There is no upside and no transaction involved, so don't get binded up in something for nothing.
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  11. #11
    Life is short. Be happy today! silver trophybronze trophy Sagewing's Avatar
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    Having a contract is probably good IF you want to ensure that you are crystal clear on what you'll be doing and what you'll need from them. Since there is no money, etc. there isn't much risk and even if there was, a good contract would have termination language.

    But, you probably don't need a big deal of a contract - just some kind of a clear agreement.

    When I do pro bono work I ALWAYS do it in the form of 'hours', which gives us an easy way of keeping it under control. I'll estimate the amount of time it will require to complete a project, say 12 hours. Then, I'll send them a written explanation of how I'll be happy to provide those 12 hours for free and that we can complete the project in that time IF they don't make too many changes, are responsive, get content, etc. If they exceed the time, perhaps they get another 12 hours at half rate.

    Then, I bill actual hours just like I always do.
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    SitePoint Zealot supermighty's Avatar
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    Don't just look at it as just a free give away site. Have them agree to give you a wonderful testimonial that they mail to you on university letterhead, maybe they can give you some kind of service award. Something you can hang in your office. This shouldn't be just a free site with no benefit to you. The benefit is something other than money. Know exactly what benefit that is to you and use a contract that agrees to that.

  13. #13
    Word Painter silver trophy Shyflower's Avatar
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    Assuming you have a reason for doing free work, your contract should indicate what that reason is. For instance, if creating a logo, you may want to retain the right to keep it in your portfolio.
    Linda Jenkinson
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  14. #14
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    I just finished a free project for a non profit without a contract. No problems. They have decided to pay me for updates, after trying to use MS word to add a phone number and to correct a spelling error, LOL.
    I did know the office manager fairly well, and I am a member of the organization. He pretty much let me do what I wanted to the site, and periodically emailed me saying it was great.
    I did expect and get a testimonial from him.

    I'm not sure how he would have reacted if I presented a contract. I think you need to consider your relationship to the non profit and the contact person.

    On a different project, I quit when my contact person changed and the demands became too frequent. No contract there either, but it wouldn't have helped. I reminded the new person of the scope of my commitment, and she replied with an explanation of what she thought the organization needed. You should see the site now!

  15. #15
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    You should consider that there are many issues involved in providing web development, many beyond project specs. Matters such as copyright, intellectual property, liability, indemnity etc. Having a brief contract that covers these issues is essential IMO - this way if 3 years down the line someone (say) accuses the site of copyright violation, you are in the clear as you have a piece of paper clearly defining who the owner of the site is and that they agreed that any content they gave you for insertion was their own property.

    Any client (especially one who is getting a free web site) who turns his nose up at signing a contract like this should be avoided IMO.

    Plus as people have mentioned, you really need to define where the 'free' stuff ends.

  16. #16
    Programming Since 1978 silver trophybronze trophy felgall's Avatar
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    You need some form of contract even if it is only a verbal one between you and the client agreeing what the free work is that you have agreed to do for them and who owns the rights to what once you are done.

    As for it being deductible as a donation - if you were to provide say 12 hours work that you would normally charge say $50 an hour for that is $600 worth of work that you have donated to them, In order for that to count as a donation and be deductible you would also have to include the $600 income from the work in order to treat donating it back to them as a cash donation. As $600 income and $600 donation (or whatever your agreed value comes to) actually cancel one another out, including them on your tax return would only have an effect if the donation is not tax deductible (in which case you will be worse off through having to pay tax on the income you didn't actually receive).
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    Word Painter silver trophy Shyflower's Avatar
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    As Sagewing mentioned, if you are in the US, your free service probably isn't deductible as a donation. This is probably something that you should check with the organization's head if you are in doubt... or an accountant or attorney.

    Before you enter into a 'verbal' contract think twice. It's great to hash out things in conversation, but 6 months down the road, will either of you remember exactly what was said? Go for a written contract. As shadowbox said, you'll need to clearly define elements like intellectual property transfers and indemnify yourself incase your 'client' gives you copyrighted material to add to the site.

    If your 'client' is adverse to signing a contract to essentially get something for nothing, then it is definitely a client you should steer clear of.
    Linda Jenkinson
    "Say what you mean. Mean what you say. But don't say it mean." ~Unknown

  18. #18
    SitePoint Zealot supermighty's Avatar
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    I'm not sure how he would have reacted if I presented a contract. I think you need to consider your relationship to the non profit and the contact person.
    A lot of people I know feel that the legalese of a contract is just a way of obfuscating screwing them over. They don't trust them. I, however, don't trust anyone who wouldn't sign a written agreement. To verbally agree is one thing, to put it in writing shows me that you mean to back up your agreement.

  19. #19
    Life is short. Be happy today! silver trophybronze trophy Sagewing's Avatar
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    A bit contract with a bunch of legalese isn't always necessary. For a small (<10k) pro bono project with a non-profit, it would be fine to write up a one-pager and ask them to initial and return it to you (i.e. a 'deal memo' or 'work order' instead of a big contract).

    It can be just as binding and easier for the client to deal with. Every situation is different and a full-blown contract isn't always necessary.
    The fewer our wants, the nearer we resemble the gods. Socrates

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  20. #20
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    Thanks everyone for replying to this thread. To give an update, I met with the group I'm making the free site for, and they had no problem with signing the contract I made up, especially since they're getting free service . I actually found a helpful source online that gave advice on Web Design contracts, and used that source to create a new one. It needs a few revisions here and there, but it's a start. It specifies what I will AND will not do, and covers any grey areas that might come up.

    Thanks again for your help. Happy holidays!

    -Malysha


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