Creatives and Coffee
“Can I buy you a cup of coffee? I’d like to pick your brain.”
It’s an inquiry that many creative professionals hear countless times every week. Much like artists, musicians and chefs who frequently are asked to donate their talents for a myriad of great causes, those who provide creative services such as advertising, marketing, public relations, design, photography and creative strategy are invited to spend a few hours sipping java and providing their services for free.
For the latter of these, the requests come not only from non-profits, but also relative to for-profit businesses. It seems everybody’s got a brother, an aunt, a neighbor or a fifth cousin once removed who’s starting a business, or whose company isn’t doing as well as they hoped. So the outreach for complimentary services begins.
Though it seems to be an accepted, even expected, practice, why such is the case is baffling. How often do you hear of someone inviting their physician to lunch to discuss medical symptoms? Or asking their attorney to sit down over a cup of tea to talk about legal woes? Does anyone request that their financial advisor share cocktails while discussing investment strategies? Doubtful.
So what is it about creative service professionals that makes the requests they receive for gratis work so disproportionately high in comparison to other professions?
And why are they expected to give so generously to each and every cause and request?
Giving back to the community is important. But there has to be a balance so that those who are donating to serve the needs of others can also meet their own.
During opening remarks at a recent exhibit focused in part on arts advocacy, I asked those in attendance who would give up a week’s paycheck to their favorite charity. About a dozen people eagerly raised their hands.
But it was the question which followed that provided a bit of enlightenment.
“How many of you would give up your paychecks to a different cause every week for the next year?”
Not a single hand was raised.
Yet that’s what we’re asking creatives to do, week after week. And that’s not okay.
We’re blessed to live in a world filled with so many fantastic non-profits doing great work. And artists are often their first resource for fundraising efforts. The challenge is the endless plethora of requests for donations from those who are, quite often, “starving artists” themselves. Every time creatives are asked to give, they are, in effect, giving up their paychecks. Those paintings are how they pay their mortgages. Those music gigs put food on the table for their families and pay their electric bills. Those creative services are their livelihood. And the time invested in the goods and services they donate is time taken away from their own businesses and their personal lives. We are bankrupting the very artists who make our community so culturally rich. And in return, they are promised “great exposure.” Aside from the reality that exposure doesn’t pay the bills, the promise of such generally fails to materialize.
The bottom line is that every time creatives say “yes” to donation requests they are, in effect, saying “no” to their families.
So what’s the solution?
When asking visual artists to donate work, offer them a mutually agreed upon portion of the proceeds. For musicians, rather than request free performances, ask if they are willing to provide a non-profit rate. And so on.
As to my creative services, I am quite generous in donating my time to the charities of my choice. But I can’t do so for every single one of them. I’ve learned that it’s necessary to say, “No,” to others, and I’ve finally reached the point that I can do so without feeling guilty.
So when invited to gratis brainstorming sessions fueled with caffeine–especially when relative to a for-profit business–my response is simply this: “I’m sorry, I’ve made it a practice to not discuss business over coffee or lunch. But I’ll be happy to send you my rate sheet, and we can schedule a creative consultation if you wish.”
It’s amazing how liberating this has become. It was way overdue.
Besides….I don’t even drink coffee.
Creatives (and those who love them) please share your practices relative to donation requests here: Indecent_Exposure: the Artists’ Movement.
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