Better Than Free
Most designers, and most design firms, have an eclectic little collection of animal shelter logos, after-school center business card sets, and community gardens promotion posters. We call this pro-bono work--donated time and expertise to causes (or sometimes just people) we believe in. Is it valuable? Of course. Is it a good thing to do? Certainly. But it's pretty solidly on the "handing out fish" end of that classic analogy. From a capacity-building "fishing instructor" perspective, better than a killer logo is a simple style guide. Better than the meticulously-kerned name on a business card is the business card template the girl at the front desk can update and print. Better than a file full of printing quotes is a 15-minute training on the factors that influence those prices. In short, better than great design (even great free design) from an outside source are the basic skills and resources to produce passable or even mediocre design internally.
There are notable exceptions to this value proposition. If the piece in question is the branding for a once-a-decade gala, I would say by all means do it and do it right. But for the postcards, the newsletters, the funding reports, even the annual reports, I'd argue that a capacity building approach, with all its potential for tortured aesthetics, is the better long-term contribution.
So let's sum up. All in favor of slower, messier, more demanding capacity building over simple pro bono work?