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Charity Gigs: Should I Do Them?

3As a performing musician, you will at some point undoubtably be asked to perform for free at a charity or non-profit, and while these gigs can be an excellent opportunity to do good, there are still times when they should be passed up on.

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Guest post by Brian Jenkins of Gig Salad

Almost every artist or talent will be approached to do a gig for charity or nonprofit. It may seem like an easy choice to spread some good around and do the right thing, but there are often unintended consequences that can come from working for a discounted or free rate. If you’re wondering about doing a gig for charity, take a look at some suggestions and boundaries from the GigSalad community.

1Opinions on whether or not to do charity gigs vary from artist to artist. Some say performing any gig for free or a reduced cost dilutes the value of your product and lowers the pay scale for other performers. Community among talent is critical, and true artists work hard to support each other’s success. Another downside is that performing for nonprofit or charity gigs can actually wind up costing you more than the lost revenue. Travel, venue insurance, or other soft costs need to be considered when evaluating the value of the gig. Even the best of situations can go awry and ruin your intentions.

Often people are pressured to perform for free as a swap for exposure or to “do the right thing”. As a person trying to make a living off your skill, you should never offer your services without something in return unless you are truly willing to donate that product.

However, doing gigs for charity can be worth the time and risk and if you are smart and use a few of these guidelines. The rewards are incredible and fulfilling and you can do some real good in your community.

At GigSalad, we love it when our members do acts of goodwill and service in their communities. There are a number of benefits to donating services for nonprofit organizations or fundraisers. One of them is publicity. Any time you get your name or brand in front of people in a positive way, it’s a good thing. Work with the organization to cross-promote through their audience and your fanbase to make sure the event is successful for all.

Another great benefit of doing charity gigs is the tax benefit. By offering your services for free or a discounted rate, you can use the value of your donated services as a tax deduction and save money on your business taxes. Ask for a receipt or letter of donation for the value of your services. If the charity or organization is a 501(c3) nonprofit, your donated time and talent should be tax deductible. Check with an accountant or lawyer to determine your values and how to file properly.

If you are doing a charity performance, ask if you can sell merch or products at the event. You can even donate a portion of the merch sales to the cause you’re working with. You can recoup the costs of providing services for free or a discount as well as promote your brand for future gigs. Consider creating some special merch just for that particular cause or event.

Some performers are inundated with requests to donate their time and energy for charity. So how do you choose? Ultimately, it’s up to you to accept gigs for the charity and causes you care about. Perhaps you care deeply about the environment or other social issues. Maybe your life or the life of someone close to you has been touched by illness or physical challenges. All of these can create a passion and concern that more than makes up for the lack of monetary compensation. Knowing you are making a difference toward a cause you care about is all the payoff you need.

One way to avoid any tension about doing a charity gig is use a booking agreement or contract with clear boundaries and defined services.  Even though you are donating your services, make sure you and the event planner are on the same page. This helps prevent any confusion surrounding expectations. Once the expectations are set, however, defy them. Go above and beyond and add the extra special touch that only you can bring.

Do you do charity gigs? What’s your feeling on them? Let us know in the comments below!

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