I am not talking about doing a logo for a non-paying client or allocating to time to where it is not appreciated, it's about find the right work, the right people to help out.
Recently I offered free, no strings attached work to another company, it resulted in a lot of opportunity for me to help them (which could help me later), get my name in front of a new group of possible eventual clients and I really got to have fun with their work. (Thanks Ladies)
Perhaps you choose a charity or non-profit to offer your services to - they could always use the creative genius at a reduced or nil rate. Pro bono for these types of groups can be good for the soul, good for the karma and really fun. Often they give you a little more creative freedom.
You may choose to do pro bono for an affiliate business, one that compliments yours. When their business succeeds, the more work will come your way - so instead it becomes an investment of your time now to pay off later.
A friend, family member etc. Someone who really needs it and you know they are 'good for it' and they have been good to you (because so easily we can be taken for granted)
Its just good for the soul: With many different non profit or charity groups, they are just happy to have someone take an interest in their design and help them promote further. They may not have the time or resources (or ability) to spend on design, yet they can benefit from a professional eye to help their communications be a little more effective and reach their target market more effectively (ie without the use of clip art and comic sans).
It can help vary up your work - we can all get into a rut doing the same thing every day so getting some new fresh work can revive us.
Only give what you can, do not stretch yourself too thin that you are stealing time that you need to spend in other aspects of your life. That may mean offering to teach someone how to use Indesign or Facebook, or designing a poster for a fundraiser, whatever you can offer.
Anytime! If you are building a portfolio or trying to spread the word about your services and design, pro bono work can be an excellent tool!
It can help you gain more business by helping you gain exposure to new groups and businesses. Have you always wanted to break into the medical field, or escape corporate work for small business. Think about where you could offer a hand in your goal field.
If you are especially interested in a company, it may give you the chance to get your foot in the door. Even though they may not be hiring or looking for your services at this point, they can consider you in the future.
If you can offer some time, each day, month etc, consider where you can spread out and have some fun - you really never know where - or what- it could lead to. Have fun with it, if its not working for you - try a new place, new company or new area - it's all great for exposure.
Keep an eye out though for those that may just be using your kindness to their advantage without being considerate.