Creative LeadershipEngaging CultureStrategy & Marketing

The High Price of “Free”

I was talking with our church and nonprofit communication strategist Dawn Nicole Baldwin recently about the concept of “free.” Especially if you’re a nonprofit, ministry organization, or church, “free” always seems like a good idea. But whether it’s a free offer to donors or customers, a favor from a vendor, or allowing people to do projects as volunteers, the idea of “free” isn’t always “free.” Here’s Dawn’s thoughts:

DAWN: It can be tempting to chase after “free” opportunities. A volunteer is willing to start a new ministry idea. An organization is offering to sponsor an initiative on your behalf. Someone is willing to include your ad on their website, magazine or newsletter. A partner wants to send a summer intern/assistant/extra-hands-and-feet-to-do-work-for-you. Sounds great, right? I mean, who doesn’t like free?

Before jumping on board, remember everything has a price. Sometimes it’s actual, physical dollars & cents. Other times it’s time. Or relationships. Or how much it impacts your brand or reputation.

So be sure to ask first:

Is the timing right for this opportunity?
What will it really cost?
Will it ultimately help accomplish what we’re supposed to do?

So free isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but never forget that even when it’s “free” it often comes with a price tag, and sometimes that price is heavy – especially when it takes us away from the real purpose we’re called to accomplish. And don’t forget – it’s never inappropriate to buy some time while you ask hard questions about the offer. In fact, when someone pressures you into an immediate decision, that alone is a major red flag.

Keep focused and stay in your lane – even when “free” is an option. I’m reminded of the great quote from Catrina Fake:

“So often people are working hard at the wrong thing. Working on the right thing is probably more important than working hard.”

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4 Comments

  1. Over the years I have been offered many short term volunteers. I am very selective: 1/ There must be a specific short term project they come to do 2/ They must be able to complete it in the time frame 3/ I must have enough resources to supervise. Why? I want short term volunteers going back saying ‘I made a difference, I did that…’ It sells our ministry more than anything else!

  2. Over the years I have been offered many short term volunteers. I am very selective: 1/ There must be a specific short term project they come to do 2/ They must be able to complete it in the time frame 3/ I must have enough resources to supervise. Why? I want short term volunteers going back saying ‘I made a difference, I did that…’ It sells our ministry more than anything else!

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