Not long ago, I was approached by good friend and fellow BNI member Jo Horne who wondered very hesitantly and extremely apologetically, if I could make a video and help create a crowdfunding campaign to save a school for children with special needs which was facing imminent closure. A close friend’s child was attending the school, Jo added, and he had made tremendous progress and a closure would have an enormous impact on several children and their families. Couched in the polite, tentative mail were signs of despair. It was an appeal for any help from those that had been cast adrift.
I took a few hours to think it over. My instinct as a parent and as someone who looks to right any social injustice was to say yes. But my guise as an entrepreneur intervened and I wondered about doing something for no monetary returns. What’s in it for me? I found myself asking and eventually wrote, I am sorry, I have invested heavily in training and equipment that I have to look at the making money soon and although I would like to be able to help, I cannot be of more assistance on this occasion.
Jo was of course understanding and I suspect, a little gutted. I did not think much more of it until the following Friday when I met her in person and apologised to her for my inability to help. But hearing her speak, I found myself instinctively re-offering my services. I would ask someone to go over there to shoot and I’d edit it. Or if they could shoot it themselves, I could edit it. We could Skype together a plan. So on and so forth. Not once had it crossed my mind that I had a packed week ahead with three shoots and that the kids were home for summer holidays. I’d manage somehow, I figured. She would be in touch, she promised but time was fast running out for the school.
The following day, I attended a MasterMind workshop where local businesses bring a real life issue to the table and it gets picked apart and put back together by the rest of the group. How do I say no? I wondered aloud to those around the table. I don’t know how to say no when I get asked for help as my instinct is to say yes but I am afraid I am spreading myself thin.
There were several suggestions that were made but the one that struck me the most was when someone said, ‘don’t just look at monetary returns on your project. People get paid in different ways’. It was as if I had been shot between the eyes. What a blindingly simple way of looking at work.
In essence, it is that I had been grappling with all along. I wanted to do projects where I’d get paid money. But I felt uneasy simply looking at remuneration in money terms. And I was too inhibited to allow myself to do work that I didn’t invoice for. Plus, that would be volunteering, of which I did enough already.
But hang on, could I possibly be richer doing free work? Why indeed not, I wondered. If I did the work for someone who most needed it, wouldn’t that make me happy? After all, what is the point of making all the money? Isn’t that supposed to make me happy as well?
More money = more happiness (ostensibly)
Help people = more happiness
Same goal, different routes. I realised that I had always wanted to help those that come asking for my assistance. But having cast myself as a business and telling myself that the done thing (whose rules? where is it written?) was to say no to free work but in saying no, I was also denying myself of the huge rush of happiness that comes with helping others.
There have been loads of articles written about film-makers being regularly asked to do free work. And how many of them jeopardize their chances as well as those of others who rely on paid work. Yet a survey done by Shooting People (a directory site for all kinds of film work) found that 81 per cent of the site’s subscribers wanted to see postings for unpaid jobs, that 86 per cent were prepared to work unpaid and that 78 per cent don’t want to be told that they cannot choose to work for nothing.
Why would that be? It could be one of many reasons. People may want to do free work which could lead to paid work. May be they are hoping to gain experience doing unpaid work. Or like me, may be they just want to help. And helping others sometime can be a reward in itself.
I have yet to make up my mind about how I would react the next time I get asked to do something for free. It wouldn’t be a straight yes but it certainly wouldn’t be an absolute no. After all, some work you do for money. Some work you do for joy. And they are both equally valid.
Addendum: Over the last week, the school has shut its gates for good, sadly. But the parents are hoping that they will be bailed out by a new bid. My offer of help remains.
(this post was amended to include Jo’s name after checking with her that it was okay to identify her)