Asking for something for nothing is a long-established habit for many fundraisers. It’s for a good cause, after all, so who can object? You might be surprised (in which case this post is for you), but quite a few people.
There is nothing wrong with asking for help for free: indeed it is a likely sign of success, knowing when to partner with someone else and acknowledge the limits of one’s knowledge or abilities.
But there is something wrong when it becomes the default approach. As it is with many charity staff.
As fundraising consultant Ken Burnett pointed out in 2014 in Even for a charity there’s no such thing as a free lunch, such approaches grate when there is no reciprocity involved, indeed where there is an element of assumption.
And size of organisation isn’t a get-out-of-gaol-free card either. “We’d love you to help us, but we’ve no budget for that” might be honest, but whether presented by a small or large charity it is not in any way compelling to the person being asked.
Burnett advises that ‘never assume’ is a good guide to business, fundraising and working with people. Which leads to another issue: are the people being asked to give their time, skill, knowledge or influence truly in such a comfortable position to work for nothing?
Plenty of musicians and artists report getting asked to perform for free, not least because it will bring them added profile or publicity. (Never assume that is what an artist is principally lacking, or that your offer will generate income for them).
International Women’s Day today reminds many that they receive many such invitations to work for free to help mark this day. (Never assume that by asking someone to work for free you aren’t doing so from a position of power that simply perpetuates a current imbalance).
So, today sees the publication of an open letter on the subject, which I’m happy to reproduce for the benefit of all who work in the fundraising and wider charity sector. Let’s celebrate people who choose to volunteer their time and skills, but let’s avoid asking for free as the default initial approach.
An Open Letter: This International Women’s Day, We Won’t Work for Free
As International Women’s Day approached this year, the requests for unpaid labour began to flood in. Every year, many of us are asked to speak or engage in some way with events meant to celebrate and support women; yet often there is no offer of compensation for our time and expertise.
The irony of this is not lost on us. Women’s rights and gender equality, rooted in feminist values, are oriented toward rebalancing power dynamics. However, these kinds of requests often leverage the power and reach of a large brand or organisation to exploit the individual, thus sustaining capitalist and patriarchal hierarchies. This dynamic is exacerbated for women with multi-intersecting identities and non-binary people.
This phenomenon doesn’t just happen during the month of March. This example represents a wider trend in asking women and non-binary people who work in a variety of roles, including as creatives, artists, activists, entrepreneurs, freelancers, and business and start-up owners and founders, to work for free often because “it’s good exposure” or “it’s for a good cause.” However, exposure and goodwill won’t pay our bills, especially in the middle of a pandemic. The emotional labour of navigating requests for unpaid labour, which is often compounded for people with multi-intersecting identities, functions to consistently devalue our work and our expertise and is simply exhausting.
It’s time for a change. Requests for unpaid labour should be the infrequent exception, not the rule, and instances of pro bono work should be our decision, not the automatic assumption. This International Women’s Day, we are calling on companies, institutions, and organisations to stop asking women and non-binary people to work for free.
Seyi Akiwowo, CEO and Co- Founder of More (Than) Money
Gabby Edlin, CEO of Bloody Good Period and Co-Founder of More (Than) Money
Marissa Conway, Co-Founder and UK Executive Director of the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy
Aisha Nash, Body Image Educator and Anti Diet Yoga teacher
Anna Codrea-Rado, journalist, podcaster and author
Jonelle Lewis, Yoga Teacher, Educator and Co-Founder of Radical Darshan Yoga School
Caroline Pankhurst, Founder Be Braver, GM4Women 2028
Jo Corrall, Founder of This is a Vulva
Sarah Corbett, Founding Director of Craftivist Collective
Alimatu Dimonekene, Activist and Founder of A Girl At A Time (SL)
Charlotte Webb, Co-founder, Feminist Internet
Sarah Tulej, Intersectional Environmentalist & Sustainability Advisor
Haleema Ali, Activist, Artist and Educator
Laila Woozeer, Artist and Author
Lauren Currie OBE, Founder of UPFRONT and CEO of Stride
Monica Karpinski, Founder, The Femedic
Holly Tarquini, Founder, F-Rating
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