I’ve been working hard lately on preparations for The Good Hundred Experiment, an annual interactive gathering of people doing good works.
I’ve been in this boat myself. I’ve only recently figured out how to start making money at what I do, there’s been a lot of luck involved, and I’ve got a long way to go yet. I get it.
But our event costs just $150 for a whole weekend, including lunches. $125 for early bird spots and $60 for students. The discounted spots outnumber the regular price spots. And still, people are telling me they can’t swing it.
Meanwhile, I’m going to a conference at the end of the month, paid for by a corporate client. It’s for corporate social responsibility professionals, costs over $1500 for 2.5 days, and it’s packed.
This makes me so angry. Not at the people who can’t afford to pay, at the whole damn system that makes some unable to pay a relative pittance while others think nothing of dropping ten times the amount, plus travel costs.
It’s taboo to make money at some work (activism, advocacy, grassroots organizing, arts, holistic practice, etc.) but perfectly acceptable to do it doing other things (corporate and government work).
This may be partly our own fault – as do gooders, we don’t want to deny anyone access to the good things we’re creating. We don’t feel right charging for things our hearts drive us to put into the world. This makes intuitive sense.
But what if everything was that way? What if the farmer felt compelled to give his produce away for free because he believed that everyone had a right to healthy food? How would he then pay his bills and stay in operation?
Take me – what if I did the enormous amount of work involved in putting on the Good100 for free, instead of the flat fee I now collect if we manage to earn enough to cover it? We might be able to give away a few more free spots, but how would I pay my own bills? By discounting our work, we merely feed the vicious cycle and give up our legitimate claim to a share of the financial wealth.
And where does that money end up? It seems to accumulate most easily in areas with no claim to be doing good – no one ever argues that cigarettes should be cheaper, or alcohol. We want the things we really need to be cheap but are willing to let vices and luxuries be expensive.
Again, intuitively right, but what it means is that anyone providing anything essential and/or socially valuable is expected to work for free. It’s so broken.
What can we do about it? You better believe I’ve got some thoughts on that – tune in next week.