When It’s Absolutely, 100%, TOTALLY Okay to Work for FREE

Man feeding birds in front of Louvre via RedWhiteandGrew.com

We saw this happy man feeding sparrows out of his hand in France.

Photo credit: K. Price

A friend commented recently that “charity work feeds [her] soul.”

That struck a nerve within me.

I have, over the years, intentionally allocated a certain amount of time each month to pro bono work. I’ve done it when I worked in higher ed, journalism, and as a blogger/author. I do this as much to help others as to feel the sense of connectedness that volunteerism can afford us.

At the same time, I’ve worked in creative fields where people strain against requests to “work for free” because, honestly, creative work is often undervalued in our economy.

I regularly encounter the tension between free versus paid work among my friends. Some, most of who come out of business backgrounds, cannot fathom ever working for free, under any condition. Other friends, many of who come out of social work or education fields, see no harm in donating a certain amount time and energy.

I think my friend’s comment about undertaking one’s soul work through volunteerism bridges the gap between those extremes and eases the tension.

In fact, the next time someone asks:

When is it okay to work for free?

I plan to respond:

When it feeds your soul–and your soul needs feeding.


Wanna talk about this topic further? Great, thoughtful conversation happening in the RW&G private Facebook group. Request an invite.


  1. Working for free in my community to make things better for all has had the greatest rewards ever. You get to do what you want, when you want and really make a difference.

  2. Yes! There’s a huge difference in intent and in results when creatives do free work from the heart rather than for the dreaded “exposure.” You nailed it.

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