Thursday, May 24, 2012

How Much is Your Time Worth?

I continued to be intrigued and puzzled over the attitudes many non-profits have regarding the value of time. I have seen accounting managers fret over $5.00 in undocumented expenses, and wring hands over $20 in cost overruns. I have seldom seen anyone worry about labor overruns.

I'll give you a concrete example. Let's take a typical state sales tax exemption form such as this:

Most non profit groups like you to bring these forms with you when you go shopping, and have the store manager fill in their info. The problem is, most sales clerks are not familiar with such a form, and it usually takes a while to round up the manager. Suffice it to say that 15 minutes is a realistic time frame for filling out such a form in a typical retail store.

Now, let say I am running around  shopping for an event or a production, and dropping $20 here, $30 there, maybe sometimes less than $10.00. Virginia has a 5% general sales tax. So, on a $20 purchase, I would be saving the non-profit group $1.00.

If I were running a business, and paying an employee say, $16 an hour to run around shopping, it would not make sense for me to have that employee fill out one of these forms for any less than $4.00 in savings. (actually more than that, because the real cost to my business of having an employee whom I pay $16 an hour is at least double that). So, it wouldn't make any sense for me to have him/her stand around for 15 minutes unless the money being saved exceeds the money I am paying to have that person to stand around for those 15 minutes. In real terms, this would be a $160 purchase.

However, non profit mentality tends to be that your time is worthless. You are expected to stand there for however long it takes to save the organization even ten cents. If you are in a contracted or flat salary position to execute a project, this means that your hourly rate drops dramatically.

On a similar note, if the scope of a project is increased there will typically be fretting over the materials budget but zero consideration into any extra labor involved, unless it threatens to keep a project from being completed by a given deadline. $20 extra in material can be considered more of a burden than 20 hours extra in labor.

So this question goes to both the artist, as well as the arts administrators and boards managing arts organizations. What is an artist's time worth? Is it minimum wage? $10 an hour? $20 an hour? How much does the highest paid person in your organization get? Is their salary supported by having numerous people below them working for scandalously low wages? Do you even keep track of the man-hours involved in your productions?

How much is YOUR time worth?

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