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So You’ve Been Asked to Work for Exposure…

Last year I was asked by a major suburb in my area to submit a quote to paint thousands of children at their city’s 4th of July celebration.  I fashioned a well thought out quote and after paying Thumbtack’s fees to do so, found that they weren’t looking to hire me at all.  They wanted me to pay THEM $75 to set up a booth at their event.

Some Clients Just Don’t Know Better.

I always give them the benefit of the doubt…after all, there are a lot of new artists who also don’t know better and work for free to start out, later to abandon the thought once they’ve gone through with it…leaving behind the damaging impression that companies can still find free artists.  I had to do a little educating of the client here, and let them know that we do not offer this type arrangement, especially on such highly sought after summer weekends, and a holiday at that.

Face painting is entertainment.  It is something that adds to the experience and atmosphere of their event, and brings more people in, helping them and all of their vendors succeed.  Some events feel they are doing us a service, but it took me years to realize that it’s actually the other way around.

Face painters can only make so much per guest, and can only reach so many guests per hour.  (Unlike a food vendor, who can sell a ton of food to one person).  For this reason, it does not make financial sense to turn down up to 8 hours of potential events that would pay me my full hourly rate to start out $75 in the negative and hope to make a profit. In this arrangement they are asking me to take on 100% of the risk if business is slow or it rains.

Twenty plus years into the business I still get requests to work for free, on almost a weekly basis.  Of course it’s never worded that way…clients generally ask me to donate my services in exchange for “exposure.”  There’s a popular saying among face painters that “you can DIE from exposure,” especially here in Minnesota!  We’d all love to have the financial freedom to donate our time, but let’s face it, exposure doesn’t pay the bills.  If you need help convincing your family and friends that yes, face painting is an actual career, I have a blog post on that, here!  But back on topic…

While working for free is tempting to many artists starting out, I caution against it for many reasons.  But to keep it brief, the exposure gained from unpaid gigs really only leads to more unpaid gigs.  So how to you answer these requests?  Here are a few tips:

But it’s tax deductible!
Some clients try to lure you by convincing you that you can deduct your “donation.”  But in reality, you can’t deduct your services.  According to the IRS publication 526, you cannot deduct the value of your time or services, or expenses, donated to a charity. To be able to do this, they would have to pay you your full rate, and then you would have to donate the money back to them, (if they are actually a charity), keeping a receipt from them. If you truly want to donate the value of your time to a charity, ask them if they are willing to pay you up front, and then provide you with a tax deductible receipt when you give the money back.  Some artists will arrange to do this, donating a portion of their pay while keeping some to help cover material costs.  But even then, whether your donation is actually tax deductible, and if so how much is deductible, varies depending on your own personal tax situation. The only way to really know is to ask your own lawyer or tax adviser. Here’s a great article with more info on the topic.

But we’re a non-profit!
Non profit does not mean they give all their money to charitable causes.  There is a difference between charities and non-profits. And to confuse things even more, not all donations to all charities are even tax deductible. (see above…contact your own lawyer or tax adviser to find out what rules apply to you!)  Many artists offer discounted rates only to charities, not non profits.  Either way though, charities and non profits do have budgets for fundraising events.

But you’ll get a TON of EXPOSURE!
Most artists who’ve done events for exposure will tell you that they lead to more unpaid events.  While I’m sure many of us would LOVE to be financially stable enough to put smiles on kids’ faces at endless charity events, unfortunately it doesn’t line up with the reality we live in.  Donate your time if you wish, but most definitely do not do it with the expectation of getting more clients from it.

Suggest Alternatives!
Many people calling around fishing for free entertainers just don’t realize that there are other options out there that actually enable them to get entertainment at no cost while the artists still get paid.  What I often do is suggest that they approach a local business and see if they would like to sponsor the face painting.  Many larger businesses are happy to do this and have budgets to invest in community outreach.  The local business pays the face painters, and the face painters put a sign out stating “face painting generously sponsored by Joe’s Body Shop.”  The fundraisers get their entertainment, Joe’s Body Shop gets kudos from their community, and the artists get paid to do their job.

Another suggestion is that while you get paid your normal (or discounted) hourly rate, the event organizers can charge attendees for your services, keeping that portion from the guests as donations to their cause. (After all, people attend fundraisers with the intention of donating to the cause in the first place!)  Some organizations may opt to pay your full rate and do this to recoup their cost. Others may find a sponsor to pay your rate, and then still charge the guests, raising more funds.  In either situation, your time and materials are covered.

Some artists are willing to donate their time and work for tips.  While this often backfires, due to the fact that people are attending to donate to a cause they find more worthy than your personal bills, it’s up to you if you’d like to give that option a try!

The costs we don’t think of…
There are other costs that come with donating services that many artists don’t think of.  By blocking off your calendar for an event you are working for free, you have to turn down other clients that come along wanting to pay your full rate on that same date.  This is why you want to make sure that even if you are giving them a discounted rate, you will still be happy to have the gig when you start turning down others at your full rate. Not sure what costs I’m talking about, or unsure of what your rate should be? Read this post asap!!

No, I’m not a scrooge.

I know that I am probably coming across as a total scrooge in this post!  I actually donate a lot of my own time and services to my church and charities that are near and dear to my heart, and it is not my intention to convince you NOT to donate to causes you find worthy.  My only goal is to make sure you think about all sides, are fully aware of what you are giving, don’t regret it, and don’t get mislead into false hopes of big tax deductions or “exposure.”

SO, I hope this blog post leaves you feeling a little more informed, and more well equipped to respond to those requests to work for free! Many artists just flat out turn these events down, but when armed with a few alternative ideas to get yourself paid in the end, you never know…some of these free requests may turn out to be well paying, annual clients!

Thanks for stopping by, and happy painting!!

2 thoughts on “So You’ve Been Asked to Work for Exposure…

  1. This is excellent advice! Well written too!

  2. This is excellent advice! Well written too!