It’s amazing how unaware most people are of what’s involved in running a business that makes things, especially if that business involves the design and building of custom commissions, as opposed to mass- or even limited-production manufacture.
Start your own business and you’ll find yourself hit up regularly for donations to schools and nonprofits. “That Arts and Crafts wall shelf you did for Fine Woodworking would make a handsome contribution to our auction,” read an email several years ago from an acquaintance who was on the board of a local organization. “And if you wanted to throw in a copy of your latest book, that would add a warm personal touch.” Never mind that I had $1,200 worth of labor and materials invested in the wall shelf, or that, as author of the book, my discount was just 40 percent off the cover price, meaning that I would have to spend $18.95 plus tax and shipping to buy the copy he was inviting me to give away. “Your donation will bring you invaluable exposure to just the kind of clientele you seek,” his message continued: “people who have a household income of at least $100,000 per annum: pillars of the community who are active in civic affairs.”
“OK,” I’ve thought on occasion. “It’s a good cause. I’ll make this donation.” But do so a few times, only to learn that your work was purchased for not much more than you paid for the materials alone, and it gets old. “What? They bought that thing for just two hundred dollars?” I asked my acquaintance when he called with what he thought would be joyful news.
“Well, what did you expect?” he replied. “No one goes to an auction expecting to pay full price. Auctions are all about getting a bargain. Tom and Sylvia know your work and love it. That’s why they made sure that theirs was the highest bid. They told me they were overjoyed at the prospect of getting their own Nancy Hiller. “And such a steal!” Sylvia said. You should feel honored.”
“But I thought the whole idea was to raise money for your organization. I would have expected these pillars of the community to pay the full price for any item in the auction, maybe even more, knowing that their donation was going to such a worthy cause.”–Excerpted from Making Things Work