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Taking Care of Business
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Old January 25th, 2008, 08:54 AM   #1
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Working Pro-Bono

So here's the situation.
Last august I was approached by the artistic director of a Dance company because the camera crew he had hired for an event bailed 4hrs before the concert.
Naturally I came in and did the taping and put the concert together for him.
After sitting down with the client he asked me to come on board full time as his
'director of visual media.' the job entitles video production, graphic design, website design and maintenance (though not construction).

Now, the dance company is a 501c non-profit, which i knew going into it. and from my experience with non-profits it takes months to get paid usually because they have to write the grants and what have you.

Since august I've put together 4 different promo dvd's all encompassing different aspects of the company. Began working on a year long documentary (already 20hrs of tape), Designed two brochures, an electronic press kit, designed his website (didn't build it though).

From the outlook of things it doesn't look like I'll be seeing any substantial monetary compensation until the fall. and between now and then we're traveling to Chicago, Michigan, and Seattle.

Now I understand how non-profits work, and understand he has absolutely no money. My concern is when money starts coming in I won't be compensated properly. Let's face the facts, if he was to pay for this straight up it would cost him over $15thousand, just for the work up to this point. And since I'll be producing twice as much work between now and the fall we're looking at a hefty price tag.

the bottom line is, I don't have a set in stone contract with the man. I have a piece of paper, saying he'll pay me $25an hour to produce work as long as I keep a log of the hrs. we're looking at 500+hrs I've logged and seen no compensation. Should I get a stronger contract with him? I've never gone this long without any form of serious payment and he's running up a hefty tab.

Any suggestions would help tremendously.
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Old January 25th, 2008, 09:06 AM   #2
 
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Nate...

I feel your pain. I do a great deal of pro-bono work...sometimes I get paid, sometimes I don't. It seems to come with the profession...until one has a reputation.
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Old January 25th, 2008, 09:16 AM   #3
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First question that pops into MY mind is ... is the "artistic director" himself getting paid? Just because the organization itself is non-profit doesn't mean the people involved are all unpaid volunteers who don't have to worry about paying bills for food and rent, etc. Non-profit means the revenues are all spent on programs and operating expenses, and that would include salaries for staff and payments to vendors. Sound like you didn't make it clear to him that if you were going to give him full-time attention you needed to be paid regularly at a rate commensurate with a full time position. You need to sit down with him and nail down some specifics.
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Old January 25th, 2008, 09:16 AM   #4
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Nate - a clarification of terms. You are not working "pro bono", you are being taken advantage of. If the company was going to hire a production company to tape a performance - they were going to pay for it. They should pay you.

Not-for-profit does not mean not for pay. The Red Cross, Cancer Society, Audubon and hosts of others are N-F-P and 501c - but the have very large and well paid staff.

My daughter works for a dance company in NYC, it is NFP 501c, and she is paid in her position as a development associate. Is anyone else in your dance company paid? Executives, fund raisers, performers?

I think it is time to have a talk with the board of this dance company. If you determine they cannot pay you and you have to cut your losses - do it now, otherwise you are digging a hole at the rate of $25/hour - and that hole is already $12,500 deep.
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Old January 25th, 2008, 09:29 AM   #5
 
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well said, Mike. And I realize that every time I do a job for no pay, I'm hurting everyone who is trying to make a living at this. There is some truly deserving pro-bono work; and, there is work that would like to go unpaid.
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Old January 25th, 2008, 11:43 AM   #6
 
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I second what Mike said. I do a fair amount of work for "non-profits." There is no reason why you shouldn't be paid for the work you're doing for this specific organization. Too, their grant applications have nothing to do with vendors being paid. They either have the finds to operate or they don't. If they didn't, they'd fold in a heart beat.

My wife is the director of development services for the foundation (a non-profit organization) of the largest performing arts center in the world. Believe you me, the folks at the top in the foundation are making very large 6-figure incomes!

On the other hand, I'm doing a little pro-bono video for a non-profit, no-kill animal shelter that truly is not-for-profit. By that I mean everyone, and I do mean everyone, there works on a volunteer basis. There are no paid positions.

If you choose to work for free, that's your choice. But don't allow people to take advantage of you.
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Old January 25th, 2008, 01:04 PM   #7
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Thanks for the feedback I appreciate it. It's a frustrating situation.
The artistic director/found of the company isn't being paid neither, nor are the dancers, or his executive director (who is my fiance I should also note).

While I understand he has a vision for this, and I follow his vision, I also know I"m averaging just about 40hrs a week for him alone, and I do have a few other clients that also require my attention.

I've dealt with NFP groups before and I know they don't have a ton of money kicking around.

Like I said, it's a frustrating situation. I think to myself, just when do I put my foot down.
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Old January 25th, 2008, 01:07 PM   #8
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This is exactly why I only do "freebies" for friends that don't require too much time or effort. Even then I maybe only do 2-3 "freebies" a year. Anything else, non profit or not, I get paid for my time, Period.

Honestly you need to talk with this guy and start getting some of the money for what you have already done, call it "good faith."

You also need to cease any further work until he makes good on what you have done.
Let me tell you from experience, the promise of being paid is not the same as actually being paid. I lost $12,000+ on this principle and learned the hard way.

IN fact The other guy I was working with racked up over $25,000 in debt to keep working for this company, well guess what, they went under, never paid a cent and he had to declare bankruptcy.

Hope that helps you decide what to do.
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Old January 25th, 2008, 01:09 PM   #9
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well said, Mike. And I realize that every time I do a job for no pay, I'm hurting everyone who is trying to make a living at this. There is some truly deserving pro-bono work; and, there is work that would like to go unpaid.

Not necessarily, Bill - just be sure that the free jobs you do are with organizations that really need a free job or one who's cause you support, because you are, in essence, making a donation to them.

I did a 10 minute promotional video for a NFP organization I am very active in. I agreed to do it for out-of-pocket costs (tape, travel etc) For about $600, I got them interviews in Maine, NY, Texas and 2 locations in Canada, live recorded music, professional narration, locations shoots in the Adirondacks and a Museum in Peterborough Ontario. I did this by calling in favors, asking for help (including a remote shooter - fellow DVInfo member who gave me a great deal) and making use of the good graces of members of the organization - slept on a couple of couches. Just for grins, I kept track of my hours and expenses and found that I would have presented them a bill for about $16,000 if I kept to my rate card. But it was fun and I get great feedback from other members - payment enough. I'm about to start on a project for a group that is just getting started on the issue of domestic violence - gonna be a freebee. In neither case are there paid staff or any kind of operating budget for the organization - just groups of dedicated folks around a common cause.

If you are doing a free or cheap video for a corporation, retail store, manufacturer or one of the big not-for-profits like Diabetes Association, NRA, Red Cross etc. etc, you are being taken advantage of, and hurting the folks who do production professionally.

You may also be hurting the small producer industry (like most of DVi) in another way...
Suppose you agree to do a vid for BigBox, inc. (or the multi-national NFP org)for free. You are not likely to have the ability to get custom music, hire steady cams & flying jibs, have a sound and lighting budget etc. - hey you are doing this for free! You do a nice job, within your cababilities without going too much in debt! However, industry today is not used to "nice" - they want to see a Spielberg production!

They then come to the conclusion that a small independant contractor can't do the job (even though with a budget and payment for your time you, and many of us, could hire the resources to take it to the next step) BigBox Inc then decides a) pay megabucks to the large studio; or b) they can't afford to do it right - those little guys are no good and the big guys are too expensive!

Been on my soapbox too much today - time for my medication!
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Old January 25th, 2008, 01:22 PM   #10
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Nate -
Perhaps the first "camera crew" bailed because they didn't particularly feel like working without being paid...

"vision" is one thing, eating and paying bills is another. If the "vision" is viable, then there should be a plan to get financial backing in place... you are effectively a "financial backer" at this point to the tune of your investment.

You'll need to evaluate how long you can invest with no return, and either cut back your support or eliminate it entirely if you can't afford to do it.

I'd have a sit down and find out if and when financial backing and pay can be expected - don't settle for vague "visions", get a date or bail out. Vision only goes so far, and it sounds like you've let it go on a bit long without any satisfying return.

Trust your gut (good luck with the GF part...), but either consider your work a "donation", and continue, or cut your losses before they get any deeper.

Sadly a "piece of paper" won't pay the bills and it doesn't sound like it's worth anything more... sometimes you have to be practical.
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Old January 25th, 2008, 01:26 PM   #11
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If you have a piece of paper that says he's going to pay you $25/hour, you have a contract (technically, even if it was just a verbal agreement you'd have a contract, just one more difficult to enforce).

Send the guy an invoice with a letter asking for at least a down payment on what he owes. If he can't pay you anything within a reasonable amount of time stop working for him. Better yet, get a lawyer to write the letter. You will then have to consider enforcing the contract in court. As it is, the guy is stealing your labor. It's not fair and you should not put up with it.

Non-profit arts organizations often receive grant money from various foundations or similar sources. These sources generally impose fairly strict accounting standards on the recipient as a condition of any grant. If the "funders" were aware that the company is not paying its bills they would likely not be happy . . . and this might give you some leverage in a negotiation.

Also, the situation may be one in which you would be considered his employee. This would mean he would be liable for payroll taxes, workers comp and related employee costs (they vary from state to state). Just because the company is nonprofit does not mean it is exempt from laws and regs governing employment. In many places is just illegal to have employees that aren't being paid.

Last edited by Peter Wiley; January 25th, 2008 at 01:33 PM. Reason: spelling
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Old January 25th, 2008, 02:55 PM   #12
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If you have a piece of paper that says he's going to pay you $25/hour, you have a contract (technically, even if it was just a verbal agreement you'd have a contract, just one more difficult to enforce).
Right on the money (and I agree with the rest of Peter's advice as well).

Have you been submitting your "hours log" on a regular basis? Have you been invoicing him?
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Old January 25th, 2008, 03:22 PM   #13
 
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Part of the "trap" for me is to work for (much) less if I think the job will get a lot of visibility...aka free publicity. In the end, I haven't gained much to date, but, the word spreads slowly. Here, where I live, work comes word of mouth. It's a small community, everyone knows about everyone. I am approached often by folks who don't have much money, but want, for example, a video slideshow of someone who just passed away. It's difficult to say no! It's more difficult to ask for much in the way of pay. But, you know, everyone recognizes me when I walk in the local bar...LOL.
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Old January 26th, 2008, 08:37 AM   #14
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Right on the money (and I agree with the rest of Peter's advice as well).

Have you been submitting your "hours log" on a regular basis? Have you been invoicing him?
I have a few times. More frequently now though b/c he's in the 10's of thousands range of debt according to my math.

Thanks for all the advice folks. I need to sit down and figure out what to do.
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Old January 26th, 2008, 08:50 AM   #15
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I have a few times. More frequently now though b/c he's in the 10's of thousands range of debt according to my math.

Thanks for all the advice folks. I need to sit down and figure out what to do.
Incidentally, many states allow suing on what are called "common counts." These are very, very simple causes of action that derive from contract claims. For instance, in California you can sue for "account stated," which requires that you've done little more than submitted an invoice showing an amount outstanding. I'm not suggesting that you sue, necessarily, but if you should decide to do so it may not be a particularly complicated matter.
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