Creative Tithing: What do YOU think?

04 Jun 2010

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I'm so excited to see conversations happening around the craft community about "creative tithing"…

The first instance I saw was over on Olivebites, where Cat talks about taking 10% of her monthly craft-business earnings, and making a point of spending it in the craft community.

Then, this post on Scoutiegirl took up the subject, speaking of the hugely positive effect these kinds of purchases have on your fellow artisans - and how, by actively supporting their dreams, you're also investing in your own.

And here's a post from Stephey Baker, talking about how an investment in your creative community is also an investment in living more creatively yourself.

Oh - and Megan just told me about this post she did in December.

I think all this discussion is glorious, because this is an idea who's time has come.

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Because here's the thing: a large percentage of us run small businesses. A large percentage of us dream of making our living doing what we love.

Well, not to get too blunt about it or anything, but these dreams need customers in order to come true. If you're constantly marketing your business to your online community, but you aren't completing the cycle by supporting other businesses, then this whole ecosystem becomes unstable.

A healthy ecosystem needs both producers and consumers. And, to my mind anyway, producers make for some of the most conscious consumers around.

It doesn't take much money, either. If you take even 5% of your month's business profit and buy a simple pair of earrings from someone, you'll have a profound impact on their week. And tiny acts like this, multiplied over our whole community, could add up to more prosperity overall.

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So, tell me what you think of this idea…

I'd actually like to see this "creative tithing" idea become very public and visible. I'd love to see some kind of monthly blog-along where we all post about the purchases we made in support of our fellow indie crafters. I'd like to see blog badges and maybe even a public list of participants.

Because here's the thing (again): accountability is powerful. If we publicly pledge to support other businesses, and then we create a public deadline for ourselves around it, I think it helps us keep the practice alive. Without visibility, it can become just one more great idea we read on a blog somewhere and promptly forget about.

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…But this is also a tricky sort of idea. Would it make us feel competitive toward each other? Would it make some people feel left out? Would we stick with it?

Would you participate?

I'd love your honest feedback here. How do you feel about creative tithing, and what are your thoughts on making a public, ongoing project of it? Comment away, please!

UPDATE: Here's some more coverage of this idea that's appeared in the blogosphere since this post:

More Profit = More to Give, from Crafting an MBA

Creative Tithing: We Are Growing Bigger Things Than Muscles Here, from Olivebites

Comments

Me too, Tara! I also think this idea has a great side-benefit - it's also a motivation to keep the ol' business financials current. I know so many creative people (including myself) who shirk those tracking and reporting tasks whenever we can. But I think this project would give us a positive incentive to know what our profits are each month.


Thank you for bringing this to my attention... Of course I should be buying from people like me, that are working and trying to make a living from home. Next time I need something I should look into my local online crafty stores like Felt.co.nz and Smallfish.co.nz these are the New Zealand shops similar to Etsy.

Thank you once again. I will keep myself reminded of this fact. Bless you!


Thanks so much for joining the discussion, Debbie!


Absolutely. This reminds me of going to a craft fair at Squam Art Workshop and having a conversation that went something like this:

She: Wow, you bought a lot of stuff. This is a great fair. Everyone has such wonderful things.
Me: Yes, wonderful work. What did you buy?
She: Nothing. I just like to look.
Me: This isn't a museum. I believe that you need to buy something. Even if it's something small. If everyone only comes to look, next year, there won't be a craft fair.
She: Gee, I never thought of it like that.

Your tithe concept is the same. If we want people to make beautiful art, we must help them (and ourselves) to make a living at it.


That's a fantastic analogy, Patricia - thank you! I'm sure anyone who's ever worked a craft show can relate to that. :-)


Thanks for adding your perspective, Tara. I hear what you're saying about "stuff." Luckily, our community provides a lot of different options. I'd probably end up spending a lot of my percentage on ebooks and online courses, for example.


Yes! I love the idea, but like Amy, I hardly ever buy anything but groceries! It's not just the worry of "affordability", but also the concern with not filling my life with stuff (even gorgeous handmade stuff).
However, I am waaay more likely to buy handmade fiber or yarn (which provides crafting time AND the finished thing!).
I think a commitment to spend X% (maybe 5% for me, since I tithe to my local church) on other fiber artists would be a beautiful thing!

I do wonder if a blog may be a bit too "public" for me. But I would be comfortable with a badge on my website (that linked back to this post or one where we all make the pledge!)


yay!! thank you, diane, for continuing this conversation!!!

I'm so excited about this idea. Purchasing art & craft should make us feel empowered & abundant. Knowing - *just knowing* - that you have enough to make a purchase like this at the end or, better yet, the beginning of everything month helps us to feel both those things.

Looking forward to continuing to suss this idea out and talking with you further!


I am glad you and Kendra brought up issues with the word "tithing". I searched around in my word bank for the right words to use to represent making a purchase from one artist each month, and that was the only word that seemed to encapsulate two things I was looking for in a word, and that was "giving back" and "a commitment to doing it on a regular basis".

I agree that calling shopping "charity" is not a good idea (and I don't think the artists I purchased from would appreciate that either). For me it is way more about the "joy of supporting an organization or cause that you believe in." - or for that matter, an artist you believe in. The purchase goes to one person, but each individual handmade purchase is what makes the whole creative community go round - and I feel that this community has a lot to offer besides just merchandise. I think connection is the big priceless intangible that I have found in the blogs I've read and the online classes I've taken with other creatives. That's something you can't really bottle and sell, so to speak, but comes when we are supporting each other by sharing of ourselves and our resources – and my big ah-ha moment was that at some point "resources" includes money, otherwise this community can't sustain itself.

I love the ideas of Buy Local First and Buy Handmade - the only reason I wanted to call what I am doing a tithe is because I wanted to get across (mostly to myself), that this would be an ongoing commitment to my fellow creatives as a way to help sustain a community I find really positive and am so glad exists.

I think you make some excellent points and am so glad you brought them up.
-Kristen


I think it's a fantastic idea! lt's like the handmade pledge, only all year!


Well. This is the second time this week that you've made my day. The first time was when I downloaded my first craftypod episode and listened to it on Monday morning and you actually made me care about decoupage.

You are just fabulous. I have never listened to a crafting podcast that has been so thorough, so easy to understand, so well-rehearsed and beautifully-recorded, like, EVER. EVER. It's hard to describe crafting instructions without visual aids, but your writing is enough visual aid that I can see what you're doing in my head with no problem whatsoever.

Oh, and your soundtrack? Rocks. My. World.

And this idea really did open my eyes. The importance of this concept is paramount (is that redundant? Or just repetitive?) to the future of the crafting world, and it looks our country's current so-called "capitalism" right in the eye and spits in it. Encourage your competition? BUY from them?! Oh, dear child, no.

Anyway. Thank you for this, and for everything else you do. Your episode on zines made me want to cry. Your enthusiasm makes everything interesting. I know I'm behind on episodes (I think I'm on #10), but I am hooked like crochet, baby.


Excellent, and thanks to Scoutie Girl for bringing it up too. It might make me a better businessperson, because it would make it necessary for me to figure out whether I'm making a profit, and give me more motivation to make a profit!


Also a good point - Teresa. In some ways, a concept like this helps us frame our individual business success as an engine of change for the whole community. That's powerful.


Funny you are posting about this! My hubbie and I are looking into starting two businesses and one of the first things we said is we need to tithe to the community in regards to what business we will be tithing with. I want to tithe to the art community and he wants to help out our local community. As soon as I build my business, I will start giving to other artists who need to be acknowledged and supported in the way I will need it. There are not a lot of indie artists around my neck of the woods, but I am sure I will do this online as well. We indie artists need to stick together!!


I really like the idea of building this "giving back" into a business plan, Megs!


I don't know if I would have the follow thru to track and maintain a certain percentage of my monthly income (I know I could, but I dunno if I would!)... but I do make a point of buying something from one of my fellow crafters on a regular basis (as in weekly if not monthly). I should blog about what I buy more often, or at least post pictures on flickr with links, because even the little things count.

I enjoy enabling other entrepreneurs thru indulging in their work!

And just like you are saying - this accountability of publishing what we buy creates momentum that causes other people to purchase as well. Keeping the money within the community inevitably improves all our financials.


Bravo to you, Leah, for making it a practice to support creative businesses! I totally agree - the more we all made this a public sharing, the more traction I think the idea could gain. There's something to be said for "peer pressure," or whatever it might be called in this context. :-) I would totally love to see the things you're buying in support of the community!


Do you publish the stuff you buy, then, Jen? How do you share your support of the community with the world?


Thanks, Kendra - that's good feedback. It's definitely true that not everyone will be comfortable with a specific monthly plan (or percentage plan). That might be a good "gateway" for some, but others might need a more casual, flexible plan. Thanks for the Supportland link - that's a great local project!


Thank YOU for the great Scoutiegirl post, Kristen!

I agree that there's potential for hurt feelings in this kind of project - there are simply more well-known and less well-known artisans, and it's wholly possible that some people will feel the income distribution to be unequal. That's a fairly impossible thing to try to regulate, too. However, I see it working something like engagement marketing does - if you reach out with purchases to others, the relationships that builds will come back to you. I guess everyone would need to embrace the overall philosophy, but let go of any expectation of immediate financial gain.

...Tall order, perhaps? Thanks so much for chiming in here. I'm so interested to hear what everyone has to say.


Maybe this is a stretch, but for some reason the idea of making this public reminds me of these "Haul Videos" I've just recently learned about. My friend posted about it recently: http://www.mischiefmydear.com/dramatispersonae/...

Apparently it started in the gaming community and now it's popular with some young fashion bloggers. They'll make a video cast showing off their latest purchases or birthday presents or whatever. In some ways it's kind of this weird ode to mass consumption. However, I could see translating something similar with what we're talking about here and making it mean something a little deeper.


Oh, yeah - I just heard about haul videos somewhere recently. That's a fun idea in this context, though - some people could do a little videoblog of how they supported the craft community each month. I like that angle!


This reminds me a little bit of the Buy Handmade thing people have done for the last couple of years for the holiday season. But this idea seems more sustainable. I do find that other artists, crafters and other creative people are often the most supportive of fellow small creative businesses. We understand what goes into making something and usually appreciate the difference between handmade and industrial products.

OK, so I'll go first. My crafty purchase this month was a small dinosaur pin from Lost At Sea, which I bought at the local Soma Gallery. It was a tiny purchase but I supported both the artist and a local business, so I feel good about that.


Awesome, Kirsty! I do think that Buy Handmade is a nice thing at the holidays, too, but I love the idea of a year-round effort. Plus, if we had blog badges or something, the idea could become more visible to all the people who read craft blogs, and maybe promote more sales.


It's weird because as someone who has essentially been promoting other people's handmade goods through my blog for the past 3+ years, I realize that I don't always mention everything that I actually purchase from artists, Etsy or otherwise. Sometimes I'll mention my handmade purchases in passing, but it's not as formal as it could be. I'd also like to start doing more outfit photos and modeling handmade stuff that I've purchased, as far as clothing, jewelry and accessories.


This is a really interesting idea! My household has been moving more and more towards eating only very local foods to support the artisans making these items (not to mention we're getting better foods). I really like the idea of a more public push to support artists and crafters to help create a sustainable economy of craft. Love the blog badge and occasional update posts. I'm not sure how often I'd want to post though- I tend to buy things in waves rather than once a week or something. (We have a lot of Birthday's, Anniversaries, ect).


Good point, Meg - your comment made me think that, wouldn't it be cool if we all maintained some kind of wish list of the artisans we'd like to support? That way, when we had occasion to buy, there would be the list. I know Amazon offers the universal, and Etsy has an embedded one. Hmmm....


This all sounds like a brilliant concept and one that would interest me greatly to take part in. I can't speak for anyone else obviously but I don't see me feeling competitive toward other crafter/artisans coz they haven't yet bought anything from me. I would probably be wishing mightily that someone would, but I also realise that there are lot of us out there, and we can't all buy from everyone! :) I think my biggest problem would be that I would find it a tad difficult to find 10% or even 5% of my monthly profit given that generally I don't make any profit! [I know, I'm probably making and trying to sell the wrong product, or not marketing myself and product properly(no facebook or twitter either!!), and maybe I haven't even earned the right to be wading into this] But I just love the idea of supporting and being supported by a community around me. It can only build, then nuture, then expand(?) feelings of trust and belonging and that you're making a difference in your own and others' lives. Can't it??


Every business has its no-profit months - or those low-profit months when your slim margin has to go for things like rent and food. So I'd love to see something like this be voluntary, and based on each person's circumstances. In my no-profit months, I don't make purchases In my profitable months, I do.

I totally agree with you- it's such a huge pool of sellers. There's also something to be said for the question of "how much handcrafted stuff do we all really need?" Still a tricky sort of idea....


Hmmm... Kendra mentioned issues with the word "tithing" earlier, too. I can see where that would be a problematic word for some people.

I should say that I think these kinds of "support purchases" do happen all over the community all the time. Many of us already have the orientation of giving back to our friends. I just think there's some potential power in turning this idea into more of a public commitment. With so many people eager to make a go of a small craft business, I think we could use a re-balancing of the producer-to-consumer ratio.


Definitely, being creative people, we're hard-wired for that kind of reverse engineering. This is why I'm always talking about the difference between Community and Market. Crafters may not always be the best customers for handmade goods. But that's a whole other story.... :-)


What you're doing is awesome! And I tend to think that, the longer we're in business, the more apt we are to reach out in support of other indie businesses. I'm just wondering whether formalizing this idea a bit might not bring it more visibility and momentum. It's definitely a tough call. But I'm always glad to see artisans like you out there, taking on the cause!


Definitely, a tricky kind of nomenclature. Personally, I like the deliberation implied by the word "tithing." I worry that ideas like "buy local" or "give back to the community," while excellent concepts, may suffer from over-use in other arenas of our lives.

The most important idea, to my mind, is exactly what you're describing - that among the resources we all share online everyday, money bears some significance. And, perhaps we should consciously let it occupy a more prominent share of our stage. After all, we're a much healthier and more sustainable community if we recognize that everything we consume online has costs associated with it - and we all attempt to do our small part to offset these costs.

I think that if even a few of us stand up and say, "I deliberately supported another artisan, and here's what that looks like," it sets a really important and positive example for everyone - people who are deep in the community as well as those who are just passing through.


I really like the idea of being public about support for others in the community... I don't know if pledging a certain amount or percentage would work for me because in general, I don't really buy a lot of "stuff," but I'm be willing to shout about it (and frequently do anyway) whenever I do make a purchase within the community.


This is definitely a great point, Amy - I don't do a whole lot of buying, either. I might be more likely to "bank" my percentage and then buy something larger every few months.


Absolutely true, Maya. It could be that this whole thing works a little like blog comments. People ask me how they can get more comments on their blogs all the time, and the answer really is to go out there and comment on more blogs. Put it out there and it comes back to you.


That's an awesome epiphany, Monica, and beautifully said!


Well said, Andi! I've had that moment so many times, and I know other creative people have, too. It's just in our natures. And you're right - that's the perfect moment to consider a purchase in support of another artisan.


That's lovely, Katie! I love your commitment to handmade. I think the percentage idea, then, might work best for people with small businesses - it doesn't always feel like there's disposable income in a small-biz lifestyle, so setting aside that percentage of profits really helps ensure we make those purchases.

Thank you for adding your perspective to the discussion!


You raise a good point here, Kimberly - through fellow crafters, we have access to more than finished handmade goods. People sell supplies and components as well as educational materials. And definitely, I believe like you do that putting this positive effort out there comes back to you.


Brilliant idea, bit like referrals and business passed when business networking


I am so excited about this idea and REALLY excited about ways to make this easy- like Flattr! I spend a fixed amount of money each month on craft magazines and I always take and spend a certain amount of money at craft fairs. Why not budget in blogs and craft sites? I get so much from these sites. The way they enrich my life (and my home and wardrobe!) is invaluable. I can't wait to spread more thanks around.


You are such a benefactor to the craft community already, Rachel. Your website connects crafters to each other and gives so many people exposure to a wider audience. Seriously, I'm looking forward to Flattring you!


Wow, thank you so much, Beth! I'm so glad you're enjoying the show. I adore making it. Oh - and the good news is, my technical skills improve a lot by, say, Show #75. :-)


To be honest, this doesn't sound any different than what I do every time I find a craft fair...


i think it is a spectacular idea. i saw this recently: http://www.the350project.net/dine_local_home.html (encouraging folks to spend just $50/month on local food), and it got me thinking about supporting local shops/craft in the same manner. (excited about supportland too: http://supportland.com/)

honestly, the memory of being required to give 10% of my allowance/first job earnings for the collection plate at church makes me very uncomfortable with the tithing comparison. i am also very bad at budgeting. and restricting it to my craft earnings would be unfair, since they are mostly seasonal. i need to be a continual supporter of craft (income or no).

so maybe i'll go with the $50, maybe you'll go with the 10%. either way, i think giving back this way is extremely important. locally and in the online community too. it also has unseen benefits to the buyer - like allowing myself to 'give back' by taking your blog class, was decidedly of even more benefit to me!

i like the idea of sharing too, but maybe semi-informally. so i might give examples of ways i've contributed, but not be required to post about it every month or every single thing i've purchased in order to participate. hope that makes sense!


I think making this public is a *wonderful* idea - because it helps continue to spread the consciousness of how purchasing from other artists keeps the whole creative community thriving and sustainable (something I managed to overlook for, uh, 34 years, ack!), and it also helps with the accountability factor.

I think I get what you are saying about the possibility of it creating competitiveness and possibly hurt feelings. One of the things I worried about when my post went up on Scoutie Girl was if the other artists I have gotten to know and whose work I also *love* would be hurt that I hadn't purchased from them first. Honestly, there is a list of people I want to purchase from, but haven't gotten to yet, and I did not want those people to think in any way, shape, or form, that there work was less than - I am just one human being who is slowly working my way through my list of amazing artists :).

One way to get around this (maybe?) would to just post the dollar amount that you spent on other creatives? I guess even that is a little tricky. Since I am just starting out in my tithing and breaking a 34 year bad habit of being frugal in this area, my first purchases were small, and are slowly starting to get bigger and increase in frequency. I wouldn't want people to be turned off to doing this because they are weak in this area. In fact, that's kinda the whole point - to get better with continued practice and to feel safe enough to come clean with the intention of doing better.

So, not sure if I really helped hammer anything out. Maybe a badge would be sufficient with the option of blogging what your tithing purchases were for the month, and making sure people know that they might be on the list of someone's intended purchases, even if they weren't purchased from that month.

-Kristen

Thanks so much for posting more about this! I am really excited that this might translate into more artists making sales and thriving!

-Kristen


I think I’m getting hung up on the word “tithe.” I'm uncomfortable with that word because I've always seen a tithe as money put into a cause with the understanding that the point of giving the money is a spiritual reward or the joy of supporting an organization or cause that you believe in. This idea isn't about that, it's about giving money to get stuff. It's shopping. Shopping with a goal, but shopping nonetheless. And to ask for some sort of recognition or credit for spending money to get more stuff... it's weird to me. I know here in Salt Lake (and most other places, I assume, but couldn't say because I don't live there) there is a "Buy Local First" movement with bumper stickers, a directory, etc. If this were more that sort of movement about directing the dollars where they are most useful then I would feel more supportive of it, but to call shopping charity feels off to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of supporting more artisans, buying more original, interdependently produced things, and helping someone else's dreams come true. I like the idea of publicizing our purchases as a form of free advertising for those artisans we believe in, and I feel that an encouraging mention of the item we bought (and how much we like the person we bought it from.) And I love the idea of doing everything we can to encourage the artisans we like, with our funds but also with our encouragement, our offers to help, and our compliments.


I like the fact that we're thinking about supporting each other whether it be in a formal fashion or just remembering that it's what we want to do and being mindful of it. I've been doin' my thang for many, many years and I've always been in the habit of trading with other artists, then wearing or displaying their creations along with mine as a way to share with customers and help promote each other's work. That might be too old school and with the internet/Etsy it's not as easy to do. I have to say that while it's important to be competitive with pricing and product it's even more important to support each other and support the handmade market. Also, in terms of tithing, if things are tight it's always cool to help another artist set up or sell at their booth or pass along their latest blog post or Etsy product via tweet. Every little bit of positive energy helps and lifts us all up. Great post, thanks!


I would LOVE to participate in something like this! I don't have a lot of customers (yet) to my etsy shop, so I'm still growing. I do love to support other handmakers and small businesses (especially for gifts and unique finds). I love buying ezines and downloadable PDF patterns and handmade products from other crafters. I usually blog about what I buy and share links. Love the idea of sharing a wish list, which I have growing in my bookmarks folder.

I read a post recently on a blog where the person was talking about something she loved on etsy and was proud she figured out how to make it herself. It made me feel bad for the seller. Sure, we crafters could probably all do that, but why not support each other?!


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