Why We Don't Work For Free And You Shouldn't Either

The difference between pro bono work and being taken advantage of and how to protect yourself.


We were recently asked to take on a project for free. After reviewing the details, we saw that the job was not right for us. When we declined the project we were told that we should be grateful they even wanted to work with us.

Sadly, people wanting qualified work for free is common. As an autistic adult, people view us in an infantile manner and sometimes as less than a professional. In reality, we are qualified professionals with credentials to back up our experience.

We don't work for free because our skills are valuable.

Being part of a marginalized community holds a specific stigma of: I am hiring you to help you and this is charity. So take what I give you and be grateful.

This is a dangerous fallacy that permeates work culture. It leads to discriminatory practices and a toxic workplace. If you are qualified for the work, you should get paid.

Pro bono and volunteerism

This message is not intended to deter you from giving of your time. We encourage supporting causes that are valuable to you. Volunteer or use your skills for free to support your cause.

However, voluntarily giving of your skills and time doesn't give the organization or company the right to work you to death. Always set clear boundaries for the project and don't exceed the agreed upon time commitment. Even if people are well intentioned they may still push your boundaries.

Nonprofit organizations have less funding options and often provide services for marginalized groups. This is a great opportunity to give freely of your time, skills and energy for the betterment of society. Be weary if a for-profit company asks you to volunteer your resources. A for-profit company may accept volunteers, but do not assume they do so because of lack of funding or a humanitarian mission.

Research the company or organization

Before you agree to work with an agency, research their mission and values to make sure they align with your goals. Read reviews of customers on Yelp or employee reviews on Glassdoor to learn the workplace culture. It is important to discern the difference between a disgruntled review and a legitimate concern of a low quality experience with the organization. Pay attention to the professionalism of the review: the language they use, did they give a reason for the complaint or is it a vent post.

Review the website and check for mission statement inconsistencies and/or service offers lacking continuity. The About page of any website should be fleshed out and give enough detail to allow a proper introduction to the company or organization.

Your time and skills are valuable to any organization. Remembering your self worth when interacting with companies is important to your professional life. Consider this: if you approached this company and requested their time and skills for free, would they agree to join your mission or would they put a price tag on their skills.

Just as the company values their services and employees, you need to value yourself.

Mental health and overall well-being

The energy you use in daily life takes a toll on your mental and physical health. Therefore, take the time to determine if taking on a volunteer project will benefit you. It can be easy to take on too many projects and become overwhelmed. It is okay to say no if it will hinder your self care and joy in life.

It is similar to being on a plane. The plane is getting ready to crash. You don't put the mask on your neighbor first, you put it on yourself so you can save your neighbor. Similarly when you volunteer your time with an organization put yourself first. If you burnout you're no longer at your best and no longer using your skills in the best way possible to help others.

Research the company, say no when you need to and remember you shouldn't work for free because you are a valuable professional. Only work for free when you choose, not when being pressured by a company or organization.

12 views0 comments