If you are a longarm quilter, especially one who belongs to a guild, you have probably been asked to provide free charity quilting on one (or several) charity quilts. These may be quilts that are donated to a fund-raising auction, given to victims of fires or other disasters, used for Quilts of Valor or other veterans groups, Project Linus, or any number of other community service, or charitable groups.
Most of us have good hearts, and want to help out all of these very worthwhile causes. I recently had a comment on my blog of a quilter who was doing 50 – 60 of these a year for her guild. That is a HUGE number of free charity quilts to do in a year. At a very modest $50 per quilt for the longarming fee (and that’s just for a simple lap sized quilt), that is $2500/year.
I wonder how many of the other guild members are donating $2500/year towards their guild’s community service projects? Yes, I know many members will donate fabric, piece tops, put on bindings, or other methods of giving. It seems to me, however, that they will spend their evenings piecing after working their day jobs as nurses, teachers, lawyers, office managers, etc. In other words, they spend their off-work hours doing something they consider relaxing that is NOT what they spend 8 hours a day doing in their jobs.
Why are longarm quilters expected to do free charity quilting?
Longarm quilters are expected (yes, in some guilds or groups it is pretty much EXPECTED for them to do the free charity quilting) to spend their non-working relaxation hours doing the same thing they do all day long. Now if you have a job that does not allow you to quilt all day long, you may be thinking “I’d love to do nothing but quilt all day”. But when quilting is your job, it is just that – a job. While I, and many of my fellow longarmers, LOVE to quilt, we also love to do other things. And when my 8 hours are up, I prefer to do something else to relax. I’ve spent 8 hours on my feet, I’ve spent 8 hours driving the machine around on the frame, I’ve sometimes spent 8 frustrating hours dealing with machine issues, thread breaks, trying to make extra fullness in blocks lay down flat and look nice, etc. At that point, I’d like to do something ELSE with my time.
I have belonged to some guilds where I was one of only 2 or 3 longarm quilters. They were producing quite a few community service quilts each year. How I really wanted to contribute was to spend my evenings sitting down, giving my feet and legs a break, and do some piecing. But I was pretty much expected to donate my time doing free charity quilting on these tops.
You, and only you, should make the decisions of when and how to donate
I don’t know about you, but I believe it is up to each individual to decide when, where, how much, how often, and in what capacity they choose to donate to any charitable endeavor. Why should guild members decide those things for the longarmers in their group? Just because a person bought a longarm and started a quilting business does not mean their guild members get to decide how they should use that machine. I’ve often thought that if the members feel that strongly about providing charity quilts, perhaps EACH member should be expected to hand or machine quilt at least one quilt per year (or whatever number the membership decides) – not just that the longarmers should do all of them. If a member is unwilling or unable to complete the quilting process, then they can contribute by ‘quilting by check’ (meaning they would pay to have one quilt longarmed.) The longarmers would also donate one or two free quilting jobs per year. This way ALL of the guild members have the same amount of ‘skin in the game’.
Are you sure the quilt is even going to make it to the charity?
Another problem I’ve heard about is when an individual contacted a longarm quilter and asked if they would do free charity quilting on a quilt that would be used for XYZ charity. The longarm quilter agreed to do so, returned the quilt to the individual, and later found out through the grapevine that the individual ‘loved the quilt so much that I just couldn’t donate it, I kept it for myself/my husband/my friend.” So basically the longarmer just quilted a customer quilt for free! Unless you know the individual really well, I would be hesitant to agree to such a job unless I was the one going to turn the quilt over to the charitable group.
Oh, well, you can write that off on your taxes.
Another myth is that the longarm quilter ‘can write this off as a tax deduction’. Unfortunately, that is not true. We are able to write off any materials that we donate (such as fabric or batting) but we cannot deduct the value of our time. So I often have agreed to give free batting, but charge for my quilting, although sometimes at a reduced rate if it is a charity that I wish to support.
Set up a donation policy
If you don’t want to be caught off-guard when someone asks, it’s best to have a policy in place beforehand. Keep in mind that YOU are making the decisions of what types of charities you wish to support and in what amount. At the beginning of the year, take some time to decide:
- How much free charity quilting do you want to do each year? Are you basing this on the number of quilts or the dollar amount of quilting? (Set up a budget.)
- How often are you willing to do them? Do you have a ‘slow’ time of year when you would prefer to do them?
- How much lead time do you require for a request? (Asking for 2 or 4 or 6 months allows you to work these in on YOUR schedule, not at the whim of the requesting party.)
- Do you have a size limit? One quilter was asked to do a free group raffle quilt each year. The quilts became bigger (king sized) as the years went on. She then informed them she would donate $100 worth of quilting, anything over that they would have to pay the difference. Suddenly, the size of the quilt got much smaller ;-).
- Will you limit your donated quilting to overall designs only? Remember, custom can take 2 – 5 times as long as an overall. Most non-quilters are not really going to know or understand the different types of quilting, so why put extra effort in when most people would be just as happy with a pretty overall design?
- What charities or types of organizations are you willing to donate to? Do these meet YOUR values and interests?
- Do you even WANT to offer quilting services, or would you prefer to donate cash?
Now when asked if you can donate for a particular cause, if it doesn’t feel right to you, you can say something like “I’m sorry, but I set my charity quilting budget at the beginning of the year. I have already made my commitments for this year so I won’t be able to help you this time. You can check with me at the start of the new year, but keep in mind I need the top 4 months before your event, so I can work it in at a time that is convenient for me.”
Thanks to Maya from one of my Facebook groups, she had this strategy to add as well: “I heard what big non-profit and businesses do. The requesting group must submit a written request 45 days prior to when the donation is needed a statement of why, who and were this item will go.”
Join the conversation
How do you feel about longarm quilters providing free charity quilting? Have you ever been ‘burned’ when you did provide a free job?