Something every individual faces is people trying to get something for nothing. Some people directly ask, with no pretense, for a favor; others ask for favors in a crafty disguise: Community Service. Youth leagues have business names on their uniforms that are bigger than the player’s names, Legal Aid Societies get volunteer attorneys from the top law firms in the state and restaurants are decorated with paintings that they never spent a cent to acquire, and all for the same reason – advertising. However, when you’re the one who is being courted to contribute, how do you know if you’ll get anything other than the warm fuzzies?
Free Marketing Versus Exposure Dollars
People trying to get out of paying for skills often use “Exposure” as a currency that they can offer hopefuls. Visual artists will be coaxed to provide free decor that guests may wish to buy. As a writer, I’m asked to contribute to “friends’” “blogs”. As a paralegal, I received Volunteer of the Year from a local paralegal association for my Pro Bono work. Is it worth it to do any of these things?
Maybe. Some questions can help you filter the value of the alleged exposure:
- What is the direct audience? A dinner party consisting of people who are not into art is not a great fit for a painter wanting to promote work. A dinner party of art collectors, however, make this much more beneficial. A band playing at a dinner party is just a glorified radio unless the party features executives of the music industry or, at least, other people who hire bands for events.
- Is there an indirect audience? By volunteering at Legal Aid, I was able to rub elbows with attorneys who were very influential, and helped me land my better-paying legal jobs. Businesses who sponsor little league events get their business name/logo plastered at events where families with disposable income frequent.
If the host seems offended that you would dare ask questions that help you get some answers regarding if an event is worth your time, it’s worth taking some time to think twice.
The Perfect Win-Win
In the case of actual community service, it is almost always a win for anyone involved. The local area will benefit from the direct deeds, be they financial sponsorship or services provided. The contributors can benefit from:
- Tax incentives: Most contributions are a write-off.
- Networking: A hardware store helping clean a ball field may run into families considering home renovations/repair. With these events usually taking place in the late spring, that’s excellent timing. As a paralegal, my volunteering has led to a prominent law professor being one of my professional references. An artist who creates a great team logo could be sought by other businesses involved with the league.
- Publicity: Contributors often get names in publications, shout outs in interviews, their work shown in the background of media coverage…there are several ways that “exposure”, in this instance, is actually worth something just due to the quantity of it. You just can’t buy the positive image that volunteering provides.
- Warm Fuzzies: Helping out always feels good. This, alone, motivates a lot of people to volunteer, so it’s worth a mention.
Community service is an amazing thing. As long as everyone is winning, there is nothing wrong with getting something in exchange for your time. The key is to avoid the trap of someone trying to personally win from your goods or services while you get nothing, and it being done under the guise of “exposure.” Exposure is not the same as publicity, or marketing. If the situation can’t be turned into those things, someone’s intent may have just been exposed.
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Graduating Magna Cum Laude with an AS in Paralegal Studies, Neth W. has drafted personal profiles and resumes, analysis reports, self-help and comedy essays, and a variety of legal documents including, but not limited to, domestic and class-action complaints, research reports, memoranda, scripts for depositions and interrogatories, Municipal Bonds, and multi-million dollar license agreements for the city of Nashville, TN. Neth can write as informal as first-person humorist tales, to as formal as APA format.