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Ways of seeing: A different way of making money

I would like to recommend a way that we can get more of our needs met no matter how much money we have. Here’s how I discovered it.
I opened a healthcare practice in 1994. My work was not covered by insurance. I struggled with how much to charge. I felt strongly that healthcare should not be tied in to how much money a person could afford to pay for it. I was conflicted, too, because as a healthcare provider, my prosperity depended on other people getting sick. This was so skewed. Also, many of the people coming to me had been sick for a long time and had already spent more than they could manage on healthcare. Some had lost their jobs because of illness.
Finally I set up a sliding fee, but this didn’t work well. Nearly all my clients paid the amount exactly in the middle of the slide. As one person said, “I don’t want to take advantage of you, and I don’t want to be taken advantage of.” The people who paid the lowest rate were embarrassed. Also, the middle of the slide wasn’t enough to support me.
So I decided to take a chance. I dropped all specific fees and said, “love offering.” This meant that each person would decide how much, and even if, they could pay. I would also accept barter. I thought I’d give it three months. After all, I wouldn’t starve in three months even if it was a disaster.
My income tripled the first month, and stayed within a reliable range for the next 24 years.
Here’s how it works. Let’s say I decide that a fee of $50 is a good compromise between what most people can afford and what my colleagues are charging. Two people, one well off and one with little money to spare, want to come for treatment on a particular day. The client with plenty of money pays me the $50 fee. The person with little money can’t afford to come. I end the day with $50 and one client.
If I work by love offering, the person with plenty of money comes and pays me, for example, $75. The second person pays $20. Now I end the day with $95 and two clients. See how it works? Also, people who couldn’t afford services like mine in the past came to me in large numbers.
It turns out that people aren’t stingy; they are generous. When I give my best for them, they reward me. Everyone gets healthcare, and I make enough money. Win-Win. Our town wins, too, because we have more healthy people, and I believe our society benefits when we knock out another hunk of “money = privilege.”
I started teaching workshops by donation then, too. Only a handful of people have taken advantage of me in all these years.
Sometimes people are stumped as to how much to pay. Then I recommend that they pay me per hour what they make, themselves. No matter what our particular work is, an hour of one person’s time should be equal to an hour of another person’s time. Our culture doesn’t think so, but I do. If someone still can’t decide how much, I tell them to pay the amount they hoped it would cost.
I have just begun to experiment selling books I’ve written this way. I tell people what it costs to produce the book, and invite people to pay what they wish. I’ve seen this done for other products and for events in a slightly different way: a price is advertised with the instructions, “More if you can, less if you can’t.”
One difficulty in working by love offering was a surprise. Over the first few years of doing this, I discovered that I wanted to give more help to people who paid me more. I put out a basket so if people paid cash, I wouldn’t know who paid how much. However, most people paid with a check.
When people who paid a lot needed me on a weekend or in a hurry, I felt more generous and wanted to give much more of myself than I did for someone who couldn’t pay as much. The idea that I owed people more service if they could pay more was planted deeply in my psyche. It equated peoples’ worth — how much help they deserved — with how much money they had, and I didn’t want to think that way. It took a surprisingly long time to remove that belief.
So if you offer some kind of a service, be bold. Try working by love offering for three months and see what happens. We can revolutionize our community this way, along with meeting more of everyone’s needs.
Barbara Clearbridge, known around town by her nickname “Shulamith” (“peace”), has recently added interfaith Spiritual Direction to her local healthcare practice. She is the author of “Natural First Aid & Simple Health Solutions,” “Heal With Your Hands”, “Finding God (Prayers & Spiritual Practices from Many Traditions),” and “Recovery: Women’s Words About Healing After Trauma.” Her website is FeelingMuchBetter.org.

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