Home-Based Volunteer Designers: Create for a Cause!

All companies need great graphics, especially those involved in redeeming work! Got video, photography, illustration or animation skills? Consider volunteering for causes you support!


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Non-profit and cause-related organizations are all about communication. Raising public awareness, raising funds, and just evoking emotion are core objectives for thousands of organizations that are pursuing worthy causes around the world. These organizations are also typically strapped for money and unable to hire the top visual design talent that they need to deliver their message. That opens opportunities for volunteer visual designers who are willing to donate time and work. Offering your talents to support a campaign that matters to you gives you a chance to put your skills to good use, lets you work on a topic that excites you, and allows you to build a portfolio of published work that can get you paid jobs down the line. That's a win-win situation all around.

Photography

Anyone can shoot high-quality images with their smartphone these days, but professional photographers still make top dollar. Why? Getting the shot isn't only about having acceptable image quality. It is about composition, stylistic choices, a keen understanding of lighting techniques, understanding manual camera settings well enough to execute your vision. It's also about understanding people and knowing what will appeal to an audience. Getting picture-perfect photos requires capturing a moment between people, capturing the spark of an individual's passion, showing the intricacies of your subject or creating the perfect composition of inanimate objects to show the remnants of a story.

Developing the many skills necessary to work as a professional photographer takes time and practice. The best way to log these hours, while also providing a public service, is to volunteer. Even to volunteer in this field, however, you will need work samples. Take photos of friends. Shoot an event. Cover a protest. Get used to asking people if you can photograph them. Start to learn how to put people at ease in front of the camera. Once you have a decent number of photos you're proud of, put together an online portfolio. Feel free to use a free service - at this point you just want to be able to point people to your work.

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You can find opportunities online or start cold calling non-profit organizations to offer your services. Send a quick message with a link to your portfolio. It is best if your portfolio highlights the type of work the organization needs. If you have a sectioned website, send them to the most relevant team.

Graphic Design

Graphic design is a highly sought after skill that can encompass different products. Building logos with Photoshop, laying out reports with InDesign or creating flyers on your preferred program are all graphic design projects. Knowledge of specialized programs is necessary to produce quality graphics. Choose one program, depending on the type of work you'd like to do and get to work. Online tutorials are available to help you conquer your chosen platform. Make something fun before you offer your skills as a volunteer. An understanding of color schemes and an eye for composition are also prerequisites.

Unlike some visual design products that are always in demand, organizations need graphic design elements at specified times. Look through online volunteer databases for opportunities and get in touch. They will likely want to know your skill level and ask for samples of your work. Your first samples can be fun home projects, like a flyer showcasing the awesomeness of your cat. Never underestimate the importance of creativity.

Video Production

Video production, in itself, is not complicated. Doing it properly, however, is. The pre-production, production, and post-production skills take students years to master, but like any skill, you don't need to go to school to excel. If you're willing to put in the time and effort to learn how to produce stunning, well-directed videos, you can be just as effective as any college graduate who majored in the field.

Start small. Like in all visual communications fields, you need to have a basic level of skill before you can even volunteer your services. Family videos are a nice place to start, and you'll have the bonus of your personal memory videos. Shoot your daughter's birthday party and edit it all together for her in a compilation video. Better yet, shoot a wedding video. Get some beautiful shots of the service, interview guests and present the finished product as a gift. Practice pre-production by planning each project before you begin shooting. Choose an editing program and download a free trial online. You can use iMovie, but the industry standard is Adobe Premiere Pro and getting basics down isn't more complicated than mastering a consumer program.

Once you have produced some videos and you're comfortable with the process, find a project you'd like to complete. Making a video for an organization can be a lengthy and involved process. Make sure it is a project you're passionate about and that they don't already have a video resembling yours. Contact them with a general idea of how you plan to proceed. Will you use stock footage? Will you need anything from the organization? Schedule a Skype call to chat about details.

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Animation

You may have noticed that these visual opportunities have increased in difficulty level throughout this article. That is no accident. Animation is challenging. Good animation is particularly challenging. It is so challenging, in fact, that few people offer this skill free, which makes volunteering an excellent way to get your foot in the door. An organization will understand if you slowly stumble through each screen; even seasoned professionals take a long time to finish an animated piece. More akin to graphic design than videography or photography, animation is all about mastering appropriate software, coming up with a creative vision, and successfully executing that vision.

Graphic design isn't necessarily a prerequisite for animation work - you can always animate stock images, use shapes and words instead of pictures, or add special effects to videos - but many animators are excellent graphic designers. Plan to spend many hours watching tutorials and practicing along before you even begin to execute an original project. Animation takes real dedication, but it isn't impossible. The resources are all online, and if you have the sustained drive to stick with it, you can learn an enormous amount. After Effects is the software of choice for animation. Video Copilot's free After Effects Training course is an excellent introduction to the software.

Training Resources

There are countless online tutorials - some free and some available for a paid subscription. Try a few out and see what suits your learning style. Here are a few sites to get you started.

www.lynda.com
www.alison.com
www.ocw.mit.edu
www.youtube.com

Volunteer Resources

Listed here are three sites that offer volunteer-specific opportunities. It is also worth looking at regular job sites. These skills are hard enough to come by that organizations will often post their volunteer opportunities on sites like Monster, Indeed, and LinkedIn.

www.idealist.org
www.volunteermatch.org
www.allforgood.org (remote option is available under advanced search)

Volunteer work may not be the ticket to financial stability, but it does train you for a fruitful career in the future. Make good use of your passion, and soon enough, you'll be in a profession that pays well and keeps you consistently happy!

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