Before You Sign | Charity Begins at Home

14 June 2018 Before

We’re all asked to contribute to charitable causes – money, time, professional expertise. Nicola Solomon asks how you can balance the line between being charitable and being unfairly exploited?

In addition to financial charitable donations, writers are often asked to contribute time or material for charitable causes. This can range from commenting on a favourite poem for an anthology, providing a piece of writing, judging a charity competition, providing an artwork, attending a festival or even becoming a charity trustee.

Whether you choose to support any charity is your personal choice, but if you do, always check the small print as carefully, if not more carefully, than you would check the terms for paid work.

Here are a few of the issues we come across regularly.

Your work

Rights Grabs and Moral rights waivers

Charities often ask for the copyright in the work you contribute, or rights of unlimited use with a waiver of your moral rights. Do you really want the charity to be able to edit your work as it wants and use it in perpetuity without further reference to you? We believe that you should grant one time use in a named publication only and that you should be consulted about any further uses.

Use of your name and biography

You should have the right of approval of your name and biography. Charities often reuse the work or print further editions without consulting the contributor to update biographical details. It can be galling, if not downright embarrassing, to find out of date details on a piece you are not being paid for. You should ask to be informed of any new uses and have the right to approve proofs of the work and your biography every time it is used.

It is of course in the charity’s interest to inform you of every use so that you can help publicise the work.

Protecting your work

Because charities are not used to publishing we find that they sometimes put insufficient measures in force to protect your work from being unlawfully copied or downloaded.

Do ask what security measures will be applied and how they will ensure that you are always properly credited whenever your work appears.


Festivals sometimes ask authors to work for free on the basis that they are charities. We strongly disagree with this argument. As our President, Philip Pullman, said in 2016:

The principle is very simple: a festival pays the people who supply the marquees, it pays the printers who print the brochure, it pays the rent for the lecture-halls and other places, it pays the people who run the administration and the publicity, it pays for the electricity it uses, it pays for the drinks and dinners it lays on: why is it that the authors, the very people at the centre of the whole thing, the only reason customers come along and buy their tickets in the first place, are the only ones who are expected to work for nothing? … Expecting authors to work (because it is work) for nothing is iniquitous, it always has been, and I’ve had enough of it.

We know that festival economics are complex and of course the negotiation of fees is a matter for individuals. However, all festivals – especially those with commercial sponsors, and any festival where the public pays for tickets – should offer reasonable fees as a matter of course.

And you should not feel pressured to donate those fees back either. Your charitable giving is a matter for you alone. If you do choose to donate your fee then ask for recognition of your donation, perhaps by being named as a sponsor. A contribution in kind is as valuable if not more valuable than a cash donation, so why do authors so seldom get the same credit as contributing banks?

We are also concerned that some festivals ask for wide rights (e.g. podcasts) or attempt to apply exclusion zones, preventing an author from working within a certain distance of the festival for a specific period. This unreasonably exploits an author's work on the one hand, then limits their future opportunities on the other.

When signing up for a festival we suggest you read our Minimum Practice Guidelines for Festivals.

Judging charity competitions

It is fine to be a judge but ensure that this isn’t just a way to get you to appear for free when you would otherwise be paid, for example by doing a school visit. And make sure you know what you are letting yourself in for! Judging is incredibly time consuming and can be contentious. Being asked to read 40 books takes a lot more time than just patting the ugliest dog on the head in a pet show.

Undervaluing authors’ time and skills

Have you ever been asked to ‘just give me a poem’ or been offered the opportunity to work for free ‘as a way of giving something back’?

Authors are incredibly generous with their time and you must make writing look easy because otherwise we don’t understand why you are so often asked to contribute for free. When I was in practice as a solicitor no one asked me to donate several days’ work without payment! Donate your time and work if you want, but make it clear what it is worth and ask to be acknowledged for its value.

In fact, this approach can help charities that have access to match funding. If they can show you have donated £1,000 worth of time or material, they may be able to raise equivalent funds from the Arts Council or other funder.

If you are attending an event your calculation should consider travel and preparation time as well as actual performance time - an event might only be an hour, but you will spend substantially more than that on preparation and travel. And if your contribution involves written or illustrated materials, include the time you spent writing, editing and reworking, your overheads and the time taken liaising with the charity.

Calculations should include the annual salary you would expect to earn as a freelancer. We recommend Andrew Bibby’s reckoner, which shows how daily freelance rates equate with different salaries for employed positions. Although a little out of date it is still a very useful guide.

Charity patrons and trustees

It can be very flattering to be asked to be a patron or trustee of a charity, and it is extremely useful for the charity. However, do make enquiries to ensure the charity is well run and financially sound. If you are a trustee, you share ultimate responsibility for governing the charity and directing how it is managed and run. (You may be called a trustee, the board, the management committee, governors, directors, a patron or something else).  These duties should not be taken lightly, and you should find out exactly what your duties and liabilities are before you agree.

The Charities Commission has published a useful guide on your responsibilities and what to expect as a charity trustee - The essential trustee: what you need to know, what you need to do.

As always do please bring any charity requests to us to check. We have found most charities entirely reasonable about amending their terms. They are often horrified and embarrassed to learn that terms and conditions drafted for them by lawyers or borrowed from elsewhere are excessive and unfair.

By bringing them to our attention you can prevent them being unwittingly agreed by your fellow authors.