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    I have a question regarding how far you go for a customer.

    I firmly believe that you make every effort to help out a customer, especially paying customers…. but when do you say when to a pro-bono customer?

    3 years ago I heard a plea on a local radio station for someone hiking from Michigan to Alaska that needed help with a website to help him generate donations for his cause (diabetes). I called into the station and offered my services for free under the assumption that the hike was to happen within the year. I paid for the domain name, I created the website, set everything up for him to update his own news items via a custom WordPress theme, I hosted the site on my server and now, 3 years and many excuses later the hike is still on hold…. He has made 2 attempts but both fell far short.
    I’ve made several revisions to the site based on changed needs each revision pretty much being a complete redo (and between you and I less work was involved because of lost interest).

    He calls frequently asking for updates, often requesting that they be done that day not at my leisure. As a matter of fact… he calls and requests more work than paying customers, even going as far as to ask me to help him raise money by setting up events to which I kindly decline.

    I will not be renewing the domain when it expires October 22nd, 2009. As a matter of fact, I’m ready to pull the plug now. Am I being selfish or are his requests overboard for a pro-bono service?

    What would you do?

    Rob MacKay

    Don’t let pro-bono work be the rod they beat you with, sure its a good cause, but you need to eat…

    Pro-Bono work needs to be planned in advance so you can do it around other paid client work, you cant let it take over your life. Its great to help out, and I am all for it, but you need to jump on top it not the other way round. He can not make demands of you, and he needs to know that. You have done more than your fair share, if anything he should get off his ass and start walkin! lol

    Maybe you should have a meeting and talk to him about this, it seems you have been more than reasonable, and I wouldn’t blame you for shutting it all down, but he might not have picked that up – and most clients don’t know how much work actually goes into it – because its the magical interweb they think its all instant. Just make sure he understands…

    Good luck!


    When you pull the plug, he will undoubtedly try and make you feel bad. Something about letting everyone with Diabetes down, etc etc.

    I think you started off on the wrong foot by purchasing the domain yourself. That’s not really a part of your services, you design and maintain websites, you don’t buy domains for people!

    I would (politely) explain to him that he’s requesting more of your time than your paying clients and that (if you wish to continue) he needs to limit his requests to one day per week. Let him know that on October 22nd the domain will expire, if he’d like to continue using your services, he will need to pay for the renewal and a small hosting fee.

    Was there a contract signed at all? Is the design now his property?


    He is welcome to the current design and content, I’m not all that excited about it. I pulled a more complicated design and sold it to someone else since it was being wasted on this service.
    As far as the domain name, I offer all of my clients as part of a purchased package domain name management so I didn’t think anything of buying this domain, and I considered it a donation (only $30.00 for 3 years but still) but I’ll be sure to let him know I’m willing to transfer it into his name.

    As far as hosting and keeping him as a client I think I’m going to have to call him up and let him know how I’m feeling about it. I will of course offer my services as a web designer and go through the regular process as I would with any client if he is interested but I’m certain that the cost will be too much for him.

    I also think I need to consider a more detailed written contract that includes details of pro-bono and free services to keep a hand on the scope of the project and not let this happen again.

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