Are You Giving Away Too Much?


If you are community-minded, it’s energizing to get involved with a project or nonprofit and use your abilities to successfully reach the organization’s goals. However, as someone who does creative work, I’ve noticed that I am asked far more frequently than my counterparts in, say, the legal or accounting fields, to provide my skills and knowledge at no cost.

It’s tough, because when I am excited about a project I want to do everything I can to move it forward. And as a board member for a nonprofit am I not supposed to do money-saving work to better the organization? The things I do best include writing and editing, research, project management, and creating communication strategies. I like doing these things. I also get paid to do these things, and I know how much each is worth. Where do I set the boundary? Where do I draw the line and avoid giving away too much of my expertise?

Creative work is undervalued by those who can’t do it. It surprises me how often I hear people say that they hate writing marketing copy or they don’t know how to organize web content, but when they find that I can do these things, a switch is flipped and suddenly the work is so easy that, surely, I’ll only need a few minutes to do it. They’ve forgotten that affinity doesn’t automatically equal speed or ease.

If you are a creative, my advice is to determine what your time and talents are worth, and only give away the amount you consider reasonable. And if you aren’t a creative, stop asking those who are―writers, artists, musicians―to give you their time, talent, and intellectual property for free. They have worked hard to develop their skills and talents and deserve not only to be respected, but to be compensated.


After spending several years working as an academic reference librarian and a community college library director, Tanzi Merritt shifted her career to become a tech company’s sales & marketing coordinator. She sits on a number of nonprofit boards, and, during her off-hours, obsessively watches documentaries, buys art, and frequents local craft breweries. Connect with her:


  • Tanzi says:

    What is so intersesting about your comment is that the thing that prompted this piece is a nonprofit that I work with sucking the life out of me by wanting me to run all of their marketing and communications instead of hiring staff. It’s a hard balance for everyone on all sides. I have said that the world turns on a combination of donating, bartering, and purchasing, and figuring out how to value your own time, and how to value the time of those who you ask for help so you don’t wear them out, isn’t easy to do. It comes down to expectations, in the end. Don’t expect to get things for free. Show people that you value their time and contribution, and they are more likely to give you some of their time and wisdom.

  • Right on, Tanzi! As a nonprofit executive and consultant, I get asked all the time if people can “pick my brain”. I no longer respond “yes” to that question, and am planning to create a regular event where attendees can have access to my expertise in exchange for the value of their contact information and soft sales pitch.

    I also am an artist who often gets questions regarding the price of my work. “How long did it take you to create that?” is the most common. “All my life” is the answer.

    Thanks again for a great piece. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one dealing with this issue.

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