I have a friend who works for a national ministry, they help churches, many of whom could (and should) pay for their services, but instead my friend and his coworkers have to raise their own support like missionaries. Their ministry is great and useful and their model stinks. In order to keep giving away what they do for free, they have to spend a lot of time that they could devote to their genuine gifting, and ministry purpose, raising funds. It makes no sense to me.
I was reading a book by a speaker who was contacted by a major ministry devoted to fiscal responsibility and helping people with their finances. They wanted this up and coming speaker to come and speak to a company gathering. The speaker agonized and finally decided to waive his costs (which included a rather large airfare) and speak for free. Later when speaking to the head of this ministry, he mentioned his struggle. The person who has made millions telling people to avoid debt said essentially if there had been a charge we would not have brought you in. I know this multi-million dollar organization helps a lot of people, but I have ZERO respect for that approach. We’ll tell the world to avoid debt and make millions doing it, but pay your own way to serve us.
Then there was the time I was called to speak at a major banquet for a non-profit. The person contacting me said, “I am expecting you will do this for free.” Here’s the truth. I would have done it for free (and I did) because they do tremendous good helping the poor, but the fact that I was asked in that way kind of left a bad taste in my mouth. I’m sure they figured I only had eight minutes of the program, but those eight minutes required weeks of preparation and that is sort of my point. (As a rule in this ministry the shorter the time frame the longer it takes to prepare.)
As a Christian creative, you will no doubt be asked to do many things for free and you should do some of them. After all “Each one should use whatever gifts he has received to serve others… (1 Peter 4:10)” You should also feel free to say “no” to some of (maybe a lot of) them. Here are a few ways I decide.
1. Prayer: No matter the request, pray about it. Don’t just assume it’s a good cause, I’ll do it. Everyone on the planet has a good cause (at least in their own minds) and you could be very busy and extremely poor if you do freebies for everyone. Ask God which things to take on and let the rest go.
2. Who gains from it?: I used to say I only did freebies for ministries, but I have had a change of heart for two reasons. 1) some ministries can and should pay and 2) sometimes doing something to help someone, unrelated to ministry, can do incredible kingdom good. It all goes back to prayer.
3. Will I gain from it?: Sometimes you can gain vital experience by doing something for free. You may not yet have acquired the skill level in a field to charge for it, but if someone is willing to be your “guinea pig” it might be worth doing a freebie. Then there is the dreaded thing called exposure. Be really cautious on this one. Everyone who is too cheap to pay you will try to sell you on all the “free” exposure you’ll get. I have occasionally gotten a paid job out of a freebie, but by and large doing something for exposure is a losing proposition. This is a game of counting the cost. I might possibly do a larger event (hope you’re reading Creation Festival…) for free because it will put me in front of a lot of people, but that’s more about the Gospel than it is about the financial opportunities. Remember that prayer thing I keep mentioning? Ditto.
4. Is there Kingdom impact?: Sometimes doing the logo for the small business just struggling to get started might open the door to the Gospel and an eternal good in someone’s life. You can’t outgive God. Again it goes back to prayer.
There is one reason for which you should never do a freebie… GUILT! One of things people always want to throw at ministries is “They’re only in it for the money.” This is ludicrous. First of all NO ONE goes into art or ministry for the money, you’d have to be a fool. Secondly, no one says, “My doctor, or my mechanic, or whatever is only in it for the money.” It’s understood in every other realm of our planet but the arts and ministry that people get paid for their services. Ministry and the arts should be no different. You have a skill that others don’t have and it has value. Give away as much as you want, but never do it out of guilt.
Here’s the thing, not everything I do has a charge, (this post for example) but everything I do has a cost and so does everything you do. To take the time to do anything, I have to take that time away from something else. The reason I can afford to do anything for free is because someone else is willing to pay me for doing something else. Understand if I do something for you for free, someone else has paid for it. People will say trust God to provide and I do, and He usually, almost always, provides through someone who sees what I do and values it enough to pay for it.
Christian creatives, live generously, give freely, but remember everything has a cost. Pray and charge accordingly. The workman is worthy of his hire.