Is there any way of asking if I will be awarded a stipend for my work, while avoiding awkwardness?
February 27, 2010 6:58 PM   Subscribe

Is there any way of asking if I will be awarded a stipend for my work, while avoiding awkwardness?

I'm an undergrad at university. Last year, I entered a competition within my department to redesign their annual conference promotion campaign and won. Though it wasn't stated in the competition rules, I was awarded a good stipend. They ran the competition again this year and I entered and won again. However, this time around, no one is saying anything about the stipend.

I've done a lot of free design work in the past and I'm certainly not opposed to volunteer work. In fact, I'm more likely to work for free, especially for people I know, than I am to take or charge money for my work (which is probably why I'm so poor, haha) But in this case, the redesign project involves a great deal of work. Essentially, I am designing nearly everything they are using to promote their conference, even custom logos, for print, email, and web. For this year's entry, I even went to the trouble of creating some of the fancier elements of the design from scratch, rather than using stock ornaments.

As a cash-strapped undergrad, I was really counting on the stipend. No one has actually said I'm not getting one, but no one is saying that they are working on it, or it's being processed or anything like that. Last year, they were very upfront about it and it was handled very quickly and early in the project timeline. I would like to inquire about it, but I'm quite shy of my superiors. I don't want them to think that I am being demanding. At the same time, I'd really like to know if they plan on giving me anything, because being left hanging, even while they are handing me orders left and right, is very confusing and as I said, I do need the money.

How can I find out the info I'm looking for, without causing an awkward situation? Should I just wait it out until the end of the project? I still have some time to deal with these people and I don't want to tarnish our relationship, not just for professional reasons, but also because I like many of the people working there. I've always viewed discussions of money to be very delicate matters. I've never had a real job before and I have a huge problem with charging people I know money for the work I do. I always feel guilty.

Advice, please?

posted by joyeuxamelie to Human Relations (10 answers total)
You can phrase it as "Will there be a stipend this year?" as opposed to "I UNDERSTOOD THERE WOULD BE MONEY WHERE IS IT". There would be absolutely nothing wrong or awkward about asking that question. Out of all the contacts you have for the project, who are you the most comfortable talking to, go to that person's office hours and say "I was wondering if there was going to be a stipend this year like there was last year." There might be a good reason you haven't heard anything - maybe they forgot, or maybe they didn't get funding and they're more embarrassed about it than you are. If you want to do this for a living you have to get used to talking about money and please do not feel guilty about getting paid for your hard work!
posted by amethysts at 7:05 PM on February 27, 2010

It will help your nervousness if you decide, before asking, what you will do if they say "No, no stipend in the budget this year." Will you do the project anyway? Will you do it, but with far less effort? Will you say, "I'd truly love to help out, but I really have to look for some paying work instead"?
posted by amtho at 7:13 PM on February 27, 2010

Should I just wait it out until the end of the project?
No, definitely not.

I have a huge problem with charging people I know money for the work I do. I always feel guilty.
You shouldn't. If you had a friend who put down flooring and he came in and retiled your bathroom and kitchen, would you resent paying him for it?

How you proceed depends on whether you are willing to do the project without the stipend.

If so, I would just say: "As I've been working on the conference materials, I realized that I haven't yet heard whether the department is planning to award the same stipend as they did last year, and I wondered whether you had any information?"

If not, then I'm not sure what you can do. They may not have the money to pay you, and now they may not have the time to get someone else to do the project.

Either way, it's odd of them to have said nothing, especially because you know they awarded the stipend last year.
posted by sallybrown at 7:13 PM on February 27, 2010

Well, even if they don't pay me anything, I think I still have to proceed with the work. tbh, I've already done so much work for them already for this current project, that backing out now, simply because I've discovered they aren't paying, probably won't hurt them that much. Not to mention it will make me seem like a complete jerk. And anyway, most of the work is completed. It's simply a matter of finalizing some of the decisions. That's why I'm feeling kind of apprehensive. My part of the deal is about 75% done and I've heard nothing about stipends...

Thanks to everyone who has posted so far.
posted by joyeuxamelie at 7:23 PM on February 27, 2010

would get rid of the nervousness. If they are not planning to pay you this year for something they paid you for twice before, they're in the wrong, not you.

But figure out what you are going to do if there is no stipend. Is there something they can give you in lieu of a stipend? For example, could they give you a banner on their site advertising your design services? Or even a small button saying DESIGNED BY JOYEUXAMELIE that clicks to your site? You should get something out of it.
posted by musofire at 7:39 PM on February 27, 2010

I've always viewed discussions of money to be very delicate matters.

If you plan to make a career out of this -- or even if you don't, really -- you need to get over this.

There is absolutely no reason to feel guilty for asking to be paid for your work. You're not panhandling, you're providing a service which has value. This is not "being demanding". It's normal and expected.
posted by ook at 7:48 PM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Anecdotally, I think that this is an increasingly common phenomenon amongst us millenials. We've been brought up doing volunteer work and unpaid internships. Before I started my career, I had done literally thousands of hours of unpaid work... including at the very company where I now work!

I found it very difficult to negotiate my starting salary, and in retrospect was not tough enough. Even receiving paychecks felt strange and somehow wrong- in the I was going this for free yesterday, why are you suddenly paying me today? sense.

So, yeah, learn to have these conversations now before it really counts (long-term salary negotiations, etc.) And don't worry if it feels awkward. A former boss (not the best boss ever, but someone who got. things. done.) gave me a piece of advice that I treasure: "If you don't go to bat for yourself, no one else will either." So, so true.
posted by charmcityblues at 8:01 PM on February 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Okay, I've been working in various creative fields for decades now, and let me tell you: the "awkwardness" of asking about getting money for creative work is almost always in the mind of the creator.

There are two types of clients: honest and dishonest. Honest clients will not mind discussing money as long as you're as upfront and clear about it. Dishonest clients may start to hem and haw when the issue of money is raised. This is not because talking about money is "awkward," it's because they're bastards.

You know how you'd ask a question like "When do you need this?" or "Did you get those comps I sent you?" Ask about money in the same tone of voice. "Hey, I was offered a stipend last time, is there one for this project?" The answer will either be a friendly "Oh, yeah, haven't you gotten your stipend yet?" or a friendly "Oh, no, sorry, we just don't have the budget this year."

If you ever ask about money, only to have your client go wide-eyed with shock and disbelief and protest in shattered tones "But, I thought you were an artist!," turn around and leave. There is no productive conclusion to the conversation.
posted by lore at 8:23 PM on February 27, 2010 [11 favorites]

Yeah, I'm afraid you've gotta learn to just be politely explicit about money. It's hard -- we're trained to see that as impolite -- but a lot of people get screwed because of that training.
posted by paultopia at 11:10 AM on February 28, 2010

last update: i asked + got it!
thanks, guys!
posted by joyeuxamelie at 3:50 PM on March 30, 2010

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