Pro-Bono, Anti-Cher

Tortoise_and_ScorpionWhat the fuck is wrong with me?! There may be people in my neighborhood, but let me tell you what they never do. They never do shit – for me – for free. We’re talking about outside the realm of possibility here.

The mechanic never says, “Hey, Tom. Your car has a leaky head gasket. I’ll fix it for free.”

The brain surgeon never says, “Let’s whip that tumor out of that precious little head. No charge!”

The butcher doesn’t say, “Fella, you sure look like you could use a New York strip. Think fast!”

Me? I was dropped on my head as a wee child. (This is scientific extrapolation. It’s the only explanation that fits the facts.) Computer geek. Programmer. Webmaster. A true modern day Renaissance man. And the only time in my life I ever run is when I can give my shit away for free.

“Yes, I’d be happy to help you with your website in my spare time. Before spending any money – about anything – talk to me first. I’ll look out for you. I’ll protect you from being gouged. You paid $8,000 for your website? Yes, that affirms my opinion of humanity.”

If I have skills that are useful I figure, what the hell, why not help parasitic life forms who happen to be trapped on the same plane as myself?

I don’t ask much in return. A sincere word of “thanks” would be more than enough. Good form dictates, though, that some effort at appearances be made. It’s like pretending to reach for your wallet after a meal when the other person wants to pick up the tab and have you absolutely no intention. Anything less than that minimal effort is bad form.

Following pro-bono work, some people have graciously offered me $10 or $20 gift cards to the local coffee shop. Those are delightfully received. The dictates of good form have been obeyed.

Then there’s the other sort. The person who treats you like a paid employee while you’re doing them a favor. These people boggle my mind. Yes, I’ll do your project for free, but there’s a few parameters we should agree upon to make this work. I prefer to be contacted by email. That’s for my convenience. It’s my preference. For one thing, I have everything in writing which I find to be helpful.

So naturally they call me all the friggin’ time and when they can’t get through they dial up my wife. No shit.

They hound. They harass. They explain in excruciating detail the importance of their project. Yes, the website has been neglected for an entire decade, but I need the new website designed and online in the next ten minutes. The fate of the free world rests in the balance, dammit, man!!

I’ll say, “I can do this if you agree up front to a few simple conditions. You pick a free template and modify it very little. Many just colors. No layout position changes. You provide content in electronic form so I can copy and paste. No data entry. I don’t write copy. I can do a project like that very quickly.”

Of course they are more than happy to agree to this. Happy. Elated. Then, a few days later, I find 42 pages of hard copy in my mailbox. I. Shit. You. Not.

I no longer wonder why people act like this. It’s their way. It’s their nature. It’s the classic tale of the Scorpion and the Frog. People can’t change what they really are.

“I understand you’re helping me out for free and I appreciate that. Here’s my logo. Let’s spend seven weeks tweaking the way the dots are positioned over the lowercase i’s.” Literally.

Having been down this road many, many times so far, and anticipating many, many more, I decided to work up a contract I’m calling “The Pro-Bono Website Project Agreement.” In the future, prospective clients will be required to sign a document like this before work will begin. It will spell out the parameters of our working relationship. I am nothing if not a consummate professional.

Here’s what I got so far:

pro-bono website project code of conduct

By the way, the subject line for this post lies. Cher is fabulous.

Bringeth forth thy pith and vinegar

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