How to Handle Free and Donation Requests

If you are like me, then sometimes you find that you receive more calls for free and donated services than for actual paying gigs. I read about your frustrations all the time, so please know you aren’t alone. But the good news is that there is a way to turn those calls into customers, you just have to be willing to set aside your pride and put on a smile.

Most people don’t know how to value service occupations because they feel most services don’t have a tangible cost associated with them. For example if you owned a tire store a friend would likely ask for a discount instead of FREE tires because they know that the cost of the tires wasn’t free. But when it comes to painting, friends, charities, and family assume our time and supplies are free so they have no problem asking for a donation of our services.

I used to get upset and feel insulted when people asked me to donate my time, but as I got more involved in the non for profit world, my church, my sons school and PTA, I realize its FAR from personal. Imagine if your job depended on you receiving grants and donation money to stay in business. Well that is the every day focus of a non for profit, especially the smaller ones. It’s the directors job to find donations, secure services for lower prices, and seek help for them to fundraise. They aren’t undervaluing you, they are doing their job, so the sooner you realize that, the better position you are in to turn the free request into a paid position!

How do you do that you might ask? I have been reading and studying a book by Dale Carnegie called How to Win Friends and Influence People and the premise of the book is to remember that humans crave

The best book I have ever read

gratification, acknowledgment and friendship so when you want something from someone keep those principles in mind. Here’s an example:

I have a wealthy acquaintance that runs a charity. To her, her charity event is the ONLY important occasion in her life and everyone else for that matter. She is a loving, giving person, but she naturally assumes everyone will care about her charity as she does. She has asked me to face paint for the past 5 years. The first year I gladly jumped up and donated my services, but then I saw her paying the other vendors and I felt a bit used. Rather than screaming down her throat or harboring bad feelings I simply followed up after the event with this letter:

Dear __________,

I wanted to thank you for inviting me to participate in your event. You are beyond admirable in all that you put into making the event a success. I had the opportunity to speak to many of the attendees and they were all so grateful for your hard work. 

If you should ever need my services in the future please do not hesitate to ask. Have a wonderful week. Attached are some images I took of all the smiling faces. 


The reason I never mentioned getting paid, or how she had money to pay anyone else, is because I made the first mistake by offering my services for free. I have no right to be upset after the fact. But I also did not want to end on a sour note. My email to her helped me remember the good I was doing by creating smiles and that in itself is a reward. BUT that same experience helped me create this next letter below that I now send to all my donation and free requests. (She has also become one of my best clients, she refers me to everyone and has paid me ever since)

So now when I receive an email or call for free or donated services this is how I respond (please feel free to use this exact template if you wish) The first thing I do is research the charity. Charities do a lot of good for the community and sometimes I really do want to get involved. Once I know more about the charity I can being to reply with the intention of hopefully transforming the request into a paying job.

One of my favorite charities- the Covenant House. I always feel great when I can help

Onetime I received a request to face paint for a local high school carnival fundraiser. I did about 10 minutes of research on the fundraiser and found out that all the funds raised were used to fund their theatre department. So I used all that I learned from the book and start off all my letters with the focus on them. What a huge difference that has made.

Dear _______ Theater department,

I wanted to take a moment to thank you for inviting me to be a part of your amazing event. I have heard so many great things about the carnival from past attendees and looked up pictures online and it seems incredible. I am also familiar with _______ theater department. I have heard rave reviews about productions and I look forward to attending a show one day. 

Regrettably, I am unable to donate my services on the weekends. Currently I save 2 Tuesdays a month  for donations and free events so if you were to ever host events on Tuesdays please let me know. However, I do offer special pricing to  nonprofits and fundraising events. My discounted rate is $100 per hour and that includes all the smiles I am able to provide. 

I wish you the very best and hope I can be a part of making your carnival a success. 

Thank you again for thinking of me, I am very honored. I look forward to hearing from you 

Have a great day,


I also include a picture of me and a happy painted child. Smiles are contagious, so I like leave my potential customers with a happy impression of me and my services.

We all smile in the same language

This particular event did not hire me, but one of the kids on the committee must have liked my picture because he asked his mom to hire me for his bar mitzvah:)

Remember, most people soliciting free services or donations are used to hearing flat out NO. So when you are the NO that stands out with a smile you can make an impact. 

Now what do you do when they call you on the phone and you don’t have time to do your research or write a sweet reply? You politely put them on hold and google them. You want toKNOW something about their charity before you speak to them.

One time I received a call on my cell phone at 8:30 pm as I was trying to get my baby to bed. Naturally I was irritated but I hate when someone blows me off so I try to treat people how I wish to be treated. So I politely explained that I would call her as soon as I finished my 1st career, my kiddies. I quickly googled her charity and found out that she was on the board of not one, but 7 different charities. The woman who called me was a big deal in the fundraising world so I was really star struck.

I called her back and asked if it was a good time to speak. I immediately asked her if she had children and she answered “no”, but that was why she got involved in Kids in Distress and other kid based charities because since she couldn’t have kids- she wanted to dedicated her life to helping them. I then asked her the date of her event. She was requesting donated face painting on a Wednesday night for 2 hours. I still read my script. But I added this line, The great news is that I have a Tuesday open this month so I will gladly change it to a Wednesday and donate my services to your event. She was thrilled. When I sent her my confirmation email I included another note that went like this.

Dear _____________,

I wanted to take a moment to thank you for inviting me to be a part of your amazing event. I can tell by our conversation that you are passionate about your service to kids and it is a true inspiration.

I am confirming my services at your event this Wednesday from 6-8 pm. I will arrive by 5:30 pm to set up and be ready to provide as many smiles as possible. 

Please keep me in mind for any other events during the weekend you might need my services for. I will gladly extend a $25 discount per hour for you anytime. 

Looking forward to Wednesday have a great day


That  woman became a great client for me and is still booking me for events. “No” doesn’t mean you have to make an enemy; No is still the same opportunity to build a relationship, and open doors.

By learning peoples wants and needs, keeping it short, and sounding authentic when you answer their requests you are paving a path to several roads of possibilities.

By getting upset or sensitive about organizers contacting you about your services or them giving you a surprised reaction when you mention your prices, is only going to make you and the organizer uncomfortable. You can’t win every job, you won’t like every call, but you hold the power the change that dynamic.

I receive calls and emails daily for free paint and free painting. I trained myself to say no with a  smile and now I stress less and can carry on with other duties.

I hope this blog  has helped you develop a  way to handle requests and opened your eyes to the power of putting the customer first. The most successful people in the world weren’t the smartest, they were just the extremely good at learning and working with people.

The book How to Win Friends and Influence People has helped me in so many ways.  I have wrote about this book and how it changed my life since the day I read it, I encourage each of you to download it, read it and practice it. It has helped my business and personal life 10 fold. Best $3 I have ever spent!

Happy Painting friends

xoxox Heather

silly farm