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Preschool Parents Expecting Free Product

Hi everyone. I started my fledgling cookie business only this January, and my (only child) son entered preschool in September. Since then, I have happily gifted baked goods to the various activities they'd coordinated, but it's been things I could whip up pretty quickly, like a few dozen mini muffins or cupcakes.

About a month ago, I reached out to the director of the preschool to see if she had interest in having me prepare materials for a holiday-themed paint-your-own cookie activity for the school. I showed her some photo examples of what I was offering, and she was ecstatic. We exchanged a few emails about it, confirming that I would provide the individually-wrapped cookies and the mini food-safe paintbrushes, and that she would obtain parents' permission, and collect $10 per student for two cookies to paint.

She was a little delayed in getting the announcement and permission slips out, which mean I had to get started on potentially delivering 100 cookies before I had a firm headcount, if I was to get them done in time for the activities planned for this coming Tuesday and Wednesday. I run my home-based bakery outside of an unrelated full-time job, a 2.5 hour daily commute, and a toddler, so for me, this meant devoting 5 hours every night, starting 12/8 through this whole week, to prepping the dough, pre-rolling, chilling, cutting, baking, prepping the icing, piping, doing the digital design work on the stencils, running them through the cutting machine, weeding the vinyl, and so on. I'm not even done flooding all 100 cookies yet, let alone stenciling them, applying the color palettes, and packaging them, and it's going to consume my entire weekend to fulfill an order of this volume. I calculated that, in total, this job will have taken me 45 hours to fulfill, if not more.

I was contacted directly by one of the preschool parents yesterday, who essentially accused me of profiteering off of the preschool parent community by requiring parents to pay for an activity that they assume should have been offered for free. "Parents GIVE, not take" was one of the accusations directed at me. It is true that the culture at our preschool is that parents come in and arrange activities, just for the enjoyment of the children, but those activities are, like, sticking cloves into oranges, not something that requires hours and hours of prep time utilizing skills that I've put tremendous effort into cultivating. It is because of the effort involved AFTER the cookies come out of the oven that I felt justified in wanting to be compensated for my work. Had it been the case that the cookies were done as soon as they came out of the oven, I'd have had no problem donating them. But there is a contingent of parents who, probably due to the sheer underestimating of how involved producing PIY cookies are, are offended that I would ask for compensation for bringing this activity to the school.

I have reached out to the director to explore the possibility of restructuring the event so that it's free to the parents, but considered a charitable gift to the school. She responded that, because they are a for-profit, the only way they could give me a tax-deductible receipt would be if I classified it as an advertising/promotional business expense. It is kind of a promotional event, in that I hope it drums up more local business for my shop from my parent community, so I guess I could make a legitimate case for that avenue, but I'm not sure if that's the right thing to do here. If I go this route, then I'll also be setting myself up for the parents at my preschool expecting that I'll ALWAYS give away my work for free, and I don't want to devalue my work. For me, this is the volume equivalent of a corporate order. I've already put 25 hours into this project, and still have a long way to go to complete it, but I need to make a decision how to proceed. If you were in my shoes, would you:

A) Make it free to the parents, and try to claim it as a tax-deductible business expense;

B) Change it to a suggested donation of $10, so that parents didn't fee obligated and all kids would be included; or

C) Ask the director of the preschool to follow up the initial announcement to clarify that the particular cookies I'm preparing for this activity are quite involved, and require 45+ hours to prepare, in an attempt to justify the requested participation fee?

Thanks, Sabrina

Last edited by Julia M. Usher
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