Should I donate my services to the school auction?
November 30, 2016 12:13 AM   Subscribe

I work for myself doing a particular service for homeowners that is in high demand right now. I'm considering donating a consultation to my kid's school's auction. What should I think about before I do this?

The item would include consultation and followup report. I do typically charge for my consultations though the fee can vary depending on what information the homeowner is looking for and the scope of their needs. A standard valuation would equal three hours of my regular hourly rate. This covers an in-home visit and discussion and a follow-up report that also includes research into their property.

Is this a bad idea? What should I be thinking about before I offer to do this? My worries are that someone will really try to eke every penny out of me in a way that would feel like I was taken advantage of. On the other hand, if the price went way above my suggested price, I'd feel compelled to offer more services and then I'd wonder what the cut-off should be. If I do this, how can I approach it so that I'll feel really good both about offering the service and completing the service?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
*And now, this fantastic! prize! of a Consultation AND Report! *to the value of $!!! (#3hrs of anonymous' time).

Later possible scenario: "I'm sorry, but that is outside the scope of the auction prize. I am quite willing to continue at $xx or I can give you the report and recommend another service X to continue with your inquiries. "

Specify the monetary value of the prize, as per your rates, then stick to that.
posted by Thella at 12:58 AM on November 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

On the other hand, if the price went way above my suggested price, I'd feel compelled to offer more services and then I'd wonder what the cut-off should be.

Why? The fair market value of the service will likely be printed right in the auction catalog. If someone does pay substantially more, they're well aware they've paid more than the service is worth, but they've chosen to donate to the school in that way. You're offering to perform a service that's roughly three hours of your time, the catalog will list the description of that service, and so you should provide the service as described, no matter what the buyer pays the school for it.

In other words, treat it as anyone else who paid for three hours of your services, because that's what you donated. If the client wants more, you can give them a quote for the additional services, just like you would for any client who requests additional work.
posted by zachlipton at 1:02 AM on November 30, 2016 [8 favorites]

The old adage is work for free, or what it costs, but not cheap. - So it's cool to give away your services, if you wish to, without devaluing your work.

I'd write down exactly what three hours of your time includes, and stick to it. If you are being pushed, perhaps say something like "I'm afraid that this X goes beyond my initial package, but I would be happy to negotiate with you if you would like to continue."
posted by freethefeet at 1:28 AM on November 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

If something went wrong and you could be liable down the road, I wouldn't do it. I would offer something else to the auction. (Like if you do home inspections or structural engineering inspections or something where the homeowner bases a decision on your consultation.)
posted by gt2 at 4:27 AM on November 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Are you allowed to set a minimum bid? I've seen professional services, even in-demand ones, go for less than market rates at school auctions. Would you be upset in that scenario?
posted by Candleman at 4:30 AM on November 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Don't--my experience is that it is seldom wise for professionals/artists/craft persons/etc to donate their services/products. It establishes a precedent for future requests, it is difficult to value the work, professional liability can always be an issue, it devalues the time spent in developing the product/service etc. You might find another way to donate.
posted by rmhsinc at 4:38 AM on November 30, 2016 [6 favorites]

If you just wanted to support the school, then you could simply give cash and take a tax deduction, but really you're bartering services for advertising and you can gauge what you do here accordingly. If your services are specialized enough that only a couple of auction participants will be interested then it's probably better to skip it. If you go ahead with this then it makes sense to clearly limit what you're offering, because you shouldn't devalue your services by giving away a bottomless pit of them, but make sure you're offering something substantial enough to grab the attention that you want out of this deal.
posted by jon1270 at 4:47 AM on November 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

This could be a win-win-win scenario: The buyer gets something valuable to them while supporting the school, you get to help the school and (potentially) advertise your service, and the school gets money. You have a valid concern, and the flip side is that the buyer might worry that you are trying to do this as a sales tactic and will "up-sell" them with extra hours,* which is clearly not the case. To avoid both concerns, if you are willing to spend 4 hours, you could specify something like "Up to 4 hours of anonymous' time (typical consultations take 2-4 hours). That way they won't have to worry about the upselling and will likely be willing to pay more. If 3 hours is your limit, I think specifying that would also be fine.

* I purchased a "financial planning session" at a charity auction. That resulted in my spending an hour being bombarded with sales pitches for high-priced, inappropriate investments.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 5:51 AM on November 30, 2016

I do this all the time with the service I do and my kid's school. It's entirely normal to spell out what the auction winner is going to get -- whether that's x hours or x widgets or x whatevers. I have yet to get into any kind of scenario where the winner is taking advantage of me because it's all clear up front. Sometimes they want to continue, for $$. Sometimes they just take the service as is and don't continue. But everybody gets this is for the school, which is the most important thing. Do it.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:34 AM on November 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

if the price went way above my suggested price, I'd feel compelled to offer more services and then I'd wonder what the cut-off should be.

I've worked a pretty fair number of events that include some kind of auction as a fundraiser, and, mostly, people aren't there looking for a bargain, they're there and bidding to raise money for the charity/school/whatever. The items/services up for bid almost always have a "value" attached, and if people bid above the value posted they are doing this intentionally and in full knowledge that they're paying more than the item/service is "worth." ("Value" and "worth" in quotes because often the "value" is clearly "maximum theoretically possible full retail price" rather than "what a person would normally expect to pay in the real world.")

IOW, I think you can put a lid on this compulsion without guilt, because if the winning bidder pays above the suggested price, they know they're doing so and they're happy to consider the "extra" money as part of their donation.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:54 AM on November 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

You should not feel compelled, and no one will feel entitled, to services above the listed fair value or specification. That's not how charity auctions work.
posted by MattD at 7:53 AM on November 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have found it very useful in my work to make the discount or freebee crystal clear. On an invoice, I'll list the full price of the work, then on the next line list the discount or waived fee.

services rendered: $500.00
personal discount 50%: -$250.00
total: $250


Services rendered: $500.00
weekend work fee 100%: $500.00
weekend fee waived: -$500.00
total: $500

It goes a long way in managing expectations.

In your case, I might present the client with an invoice (already paid in full) at the start of the work, listing the time and services you will provide. It can clearly state that any requests beyond that will be considered additional professional services, and list rates. It doesn't have to be an awkward thing, it can simply be "for your records."
posted by Cranialtorque at 8:53 AM on November 30, 2016 [6 favorites]

Most charity auction bids go over the suggested value.

I recently donated a plain nylon horse halter to a charity affair.

The winner paid six times what it was worth. They really didn't want or need that halter, it was a vehicle for a charitable contribution.

Spell out the value, the time, what you'll do, and the extent of what is covered. Add a note anything over that will be negotiated separately.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:28 AM on November 30, 2016

Based on my experience with donations that got bundled into a theme package - Check in with auction organizer but consider putting a generous expiration date on your offer - depending on the value and the way that it is packaged there is a possibility that the person who buys may end up not using it. You don't want to be wondering five years from now if it is ever going to be cashed in.
posted by metahawk at 11:13 PM on December 2, 2016

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