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To give or not to give: the vexed question of charity

donation with loveFACE painters are generally kind and generous people who enjoy making children happy. But when it comes to the vexed question of charity, there’s a fine line between offering support for a cause and being exploited. I’ll get to that shortly.

With so many good and deserving causes in need, a generous face painter could easily spend every weekend working for free, donating goods and services for all types of events and charities and making everyone happy in the process. While this may be a noble way to live, good quality products and materials aren’t cheap; assuming your goal is to operate a successful business, if you are always working for free, my guess is you are going to struggle to make ends meet.

The vexed question is: to give or not to give? And if so, who to and how much? Of course it’s a personal choice and one that is likely to reflect your own values and beliefs. When there’s a charity or cause close to your heart, then the decision is usually easy, but at some point you will need to draw a line and decide how much of your time, energy, products, and potential lost earnings you are willing to give up.

So my suggestion for you is to draw that line today. Take a few minutes to think about your priorities now (or when you finish reading this article) and the next time you get asked to donate your services, you’ll be prepared with a confident answer.

There are generally three main types of charities to which a face painter may be asked to contribute:

* Community fundraisers – for schools, sporting teams, play groups, church groups and the like;

* Established, national or international causes – generally these registered charities which are managed by Not For Profit (NFP) organisations and any contributions you make may be tax deductible. Some examples include: Red Cross, RPSCA, SIDS for Kids, Children’s Hospital, etc

* ‘Emergency’ fundraisers, which usually occur unexpectedly as a result of catastrophe or misfortune. eg supporting a local individual or family following illness or the like;

* To this list I will add a fourth type, but one you should approach will LOTS of caution: the phone call soliciting your pledge for an organisation (which may or may not be a charity) in exchange for advertising in a publication you have never heard of, and are likely to never see. In my experience, these are often scams. Never give out any personal information over the phone and always request their proposal in writing. Even then, weigh up whether or not this is the best way to support a ’cause’.

My tips for managing charities

Step One: Decide in advance how many charity events you plan to support throughout the year and shortlist your preferred charities.

My tip is to make the initial contact and offer a proposal. For example, I like to support the local group who rescues and rehabilitates injured wildlife (WIRES). So I let them know I’m available to paint at their annual event and every dollar I make is donated directly to the cause. In June I help raise money for SIDS and Kids (research of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) by donating a percentage of my income from my market stalls in this month to the organisation. There’s even a website dedicated to Australian charities – a great place to start.

Be prepared for unexpected charity fundraisers. These may be in support of a local family who have endured an illness or catastrophe. If you can’t be there in person, donating a gift certificate for a charity auction or raffle can be a good solution.

Once you have preselected your charity beneficiaries, it’s then a lot easy to say: “I’m sorry but I have already allocated my charities for this year. But perhaps you would like to consider an alternative?” – see below for some ideas.


Step Two: Put a value to your contribution and consider the ways in which you can most effectively donate. And don’t forget to set limits.

If you don’t value your time, skill and cost of your products, why should anyone else? When you’ve been asked to donate your services to a charity event, don’t assume the event planner knows the best way you can contribute. Many will hope you will simply be an attraction. Let’s look at some alternatives that are far more effective;

* You agree to a cash donation resulting from your services on the day. You charge your standard pay per face rates and then return some or all of the income by donation. This may be anything from a small percentage of your profits to all your takings on the day. The choice is yours, but you should get a receipt and you may find your donation is tax deductible. And don’t forget to set reasonable limits. ie. you will paint for up to 4 hours (or whatever it may be). I often do this for school fetes, fairs and fundraisers, setting an agreed rate and making the donation by cheque afterwards. In exchange, I ask them to confirm in writing that no other face painter or volunteer painter will be there to conflict with my business. Everyone is happy;

* You agree to a discount on your standard rate – but make sure you have the charity discount clearly marked on your invoice so there’s no confusion for other events down the track;

* You offer your fixed standard hourly rate and propose to collect a donation on behalf of the charity to recoup their costs;

* You offer a credit voucher (for a pre-determined value, ie birthday party valued at $200) to be raffled or auction as part of a fundraiser. This can work well as you don’t need to attend the event to contribute. Plus an auctioneer is likely to give your business a plug as they try and sell it to the crowd.

WARNING: not all charities are equal

Let me clarify. I don’t mean all charities are not equally deserving. After all, what child wouldn’t benefit from a little art therapy and one on one time with a face painter? But some event planners will ask you to work for free even if they have an activities budget. They assume you’ll be happy to work for the exposure and warm fuzzy feeling alone. But if you have bills to pay, and you value your time, you can ask if the other activities on offer are being contracted. If so, you’re being exploited – it may or may not be intentional. Again, if this is a charity or event that means something to you, the decision to contribute may be easy. But not all charities ARE charities, and too many event organisers undervalue professional face painters. It’s our job to teach them what’s fair and what’s not.

Sometimes offering an alternative solution will satisfy everyone, sometimes it’s OK to say ‘no thanks; and move on. Forgive yourself – you are not being cold-hearted, just business-minded. Whatever you do, trust your gut and do it politely, but there’s no harm in offering up a few options.  And if you have to say, I’m sorry but my child has a doctor’s appointment on that date – no-one will hold it against you.

I’d love to know how you handle charity requests as a face painter? Did you start out as a volunteer? Are you still a volunteer? Have you ever felt like you’ve been exploited? How do you set limits and decide who benefits? Please comment below and share this post with your friends.


About Kate

Hi, I'm Kate and I'm the author of a few blogs - including the one you're reading now. I run a handful of small businesses, and work part-time as a journalist with a daily newspaper. I've worked or studied in media for close to 20 years; in animation, advertising, sales, and journalism. I discovered the joy of face painting and balloon twisting in 2011. In 2012 I launched North Coast Markets to help promote regional markets, events, festivals and fairs - and stall holders like me who attend them. This year I have added the Australian Face Painting School to my growing list of blogs, to help face painters of all levels, but particularly new face painters, to improve their skills.

9 comments on “To give or not to give: the vexed question of charity

  1. Connie Maks
    March 25, 2013

    This is a wonderful article! It gave me things to think about and use! I do enjoy helping the charities of my choice, but I do not like to be exploited. I think it is wise to establish how many charities to do a year. I have helped with fund-raisers for mentoring groups and was told several times “we have already reached our cap for donations this month”…I understood and didn’t feel bad toward the store.I was actually glad to know they DID donate to worthy causes even though they couldn’t donate to mine at the time. I like the idea of asking if the other activites are being paid for because it takes the akwardness away from me and puts it back on the person asking me to work for free…also maybe it will help them understand I am also a business (just like the blow up jumping ride). I do love face painting, however it is time away from my family and other obligations and I do have quite a bit of money invested in my “fun hobby”. For future charity painting, I am thinking about figuring how much it actually cost me to paint a face (paint, glitter, gems, equipment, gas, etc…) and at least keeping enough to cover my costs.

  2. Julie
    March 25, 2013

    I started by volunteering for my chosen charity and they gave me a token $ to help cover my products. The following year I sent them an email saying that now I had started painting as a business I had several new overheads (insurance, new and better products etc) and though I would still like to support they 3 major events I would be happy to donate a % of my takings. They were happy that they still get a draw-card of face painting (no cost to them) and get a donation as well. Everyone’s happy, I get 3 fee free events to advertise and hand out cards (showing clients I support the charity they do also helps) and the more I make the more they get and visa-versa.

  3. facepaintingschool
    March 25, 2013

    Great point Julie. I think many face painters start out volunteering and it sounds like your arrangement works for both you and the charity.

  4. Nina
    March 26, 2013

    Thank you so much for this article. Having set up my business only mid last year I have been asked quite frequently to donate my services by various organisations. You have given me lots of ideas on how to deal with these enquiries and ways to organise myself so that I am still giving to those charities that are dear to me but also more confidence to others to say no or offer a reduced rate. Thanks again. Nina

  5. facepaintingschool
    March 27, 2013

    I agree Connie, it’s a rare face painter who won’t donate to charity in one form or other. It can be hard not to feel guilty when we need to say no. But it’s impossible to run a business and always say yes. Taking some time to work out your costs and prioritize those charities that you feel most connected to should help ease some of that guilt. I hope!

  6. facepaintingschool
    March 27, 2013

    Good to hear Nina. Pleased my ideas have struck a chord. Good luck with the new business :)

  7. Laura
    April 12, 2013

    Very true I’m bombarded with requests for free its so hard to please everyone and too many will ruin your business I’m going to follow your plan :-)

  8. Maryanne
    January 20, 2014

    Interesting article Kate.
    I personally don’t encourage free anything, anymore, as I believe it breeds greed.
    Ever noticed how people NEED extras, but HAVE nothing to offer in return. … Usually not even manners.
    I feel I have proven myself as an ok painter…. at the world body painting festival Austria (top 20 professional finals). And these charity’s always find me… so I don’t need their exposure or people to practice on. I do NEED to be able to pay for my kit, fuel for my car to get to their gig, and costs of insurances, business overheads and my professional development.
    I pick and choose what is worth donating my time and effort to for charity’s.
    I implemented a trade value for my work “giveaways” eg for crowd control we set up a table of colouring in activities. When they colour in a page… they receive a balloon sculpture or face paint. (Usually the time it takes to paint the kid ahead of them, or a few minutes to actually sculpt the balloon.)
    If they won’t color in a page… is it worth my effort? Simple. And it slows down people wanting to barge in the queue.
    The charity events I choose I want to know that I will have a high probability on return. So I will screen the advertising/promotions if I don’t know about the event thru various medias then other people probably won’t either.
    One I did recently was a bridal expo. Proceeds going to autism.
    I knew there was an expected 3500 visitors. There was already a facepainter attending who painted in a very different style/league. I didn’t want go clash with or offend so I offered to balloon sculpt instead.
    I spent 3 days prior sculpting a life size bride, 5 smaller flower girls, numerous vases of flowers, rose domes on ornate stands, a floating tiara arch, and a whooping big peacock.
    More than 3500 people attended. Everyone noticed awesome balloons. I didn’t compete or clash with the other (amateur) facepainter. I did get lots of exposure, enquiries and attention. I believe this freebie for charity will pay back for months to come from genuine buyers. This is how I choose to donate to charity.

    After the event I transported the group of air heads and peacock etc to one of my regular corporate venues to spend the rest of the week on display there… gaining more exposure.

  9. facepaintingschool
    January 20, 2014

    Great to hear from you Maryanne :) love the idea about the colouring-in station to keep them busy and then exchange for a balloon or painting. You have some great ideas for handling charity requests too. I really enjoyed reading your comment. Thanks for taking the time :) Kate

Comments are closed.


This entry was posted on March 25, 2013 by in better business and tagged , , .
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