Not-For-Profit refuses to pay student designer

Here is the story, I am a student running an independent business and I have been working for a not-for-profit organization for a year now (I am not sure about slander laws so I will not name them as of yet) when a situation arises. I completed a news letter for them of which I have done 3 prior, all received with compliments including the present one. They signed off on it and had it printed. When I invoiced them, they told me that the cost was to high and the quality was bad (it’s the same as all the others) and that I had to prove to them that I worked all the hours I said I did. They requested to see my time sheet, I provided this. The time sheet shows that I saved them $80.00 or so. A month goes by and I do not hear from them, so I give them a call and talk to some one who tells me that it is “industry standard for them to be able to review my hours and then tell me what they will pay me” well an argument ensues and this person hangs up on me and that’s it.
Do you have any advice for me? By the way I am out about $400.00 because of this incident.

Have you ever had a problem where in some one did not pay for work ?

Did you have a contract, or any other piece of paper to set out details of the agreement to do work for them? If so, then if there’s nothing about them being able to review your hours and tell you what they will pay you (and I seriously doubt you’d sign it if there was) you should be ok. If not, then the fact that they accepted similar work before with no problem should be in your favour if you want to take it to court, however for $400 it’s a question of whether it’s worth it in court fees etc.

Whether there is or isn’t a contract, you might want to run it all past a bailiff (I don’t know what the US equivalent is). Some of them will even buy the debt from you, that is they pay you what you are owed and then chase the debtor for the money.


You could contact a collection agency. Not sure how it works though. You might want to warn them before you do this though. They may fork up the money instead of ruining their credit rating.

For almost all small businesses, it seems that getting paid is really tough and can take a lot of persistent following-up. Even when the relationship is well-established, the vendor is senior, the company is for-profit, it just takes a long time.

It really sucks, it shouldn’t be that way, and it’s very hard for small businesses because you don’t want to harm the relationship by being super-tough and agressive, but you need to in order to get paid.

It sounds like that’s the case here, except that they are taking extra advantage because of your junior situation.

I know it’s frustrating because you feel powerless unless you have some course of action - take them to court, get a collection agency, etc. etc. In most cases those won’t be worth your time, but it’s tempting to go there quickly because as I said, it’s damn frustrating.

I would say that yeah, we feel your pain, and you are not the only one that has been down this road, and that I would encourage you to be persistent but businesslike. Remind them that there have not been qualitiy issues in the past, that you completed the work for them, and that you expect payment. Followup. Send letters. Send faxes. Send emails. Leave voice mails. Send more invoices - mark them “past due.”

Bug them, until they pay you.

Have you tried contacting your client’s local attorney general? They handle these things too for businesses.

ok well my set hourly wage was dictated and agreed upon at the beginning of our relationship. This wage has been applied to each job I have done, with no complaints.

This news letter cost about 400.00 more then the last few. This is because I had it done and then some one at the office told me to change the font down a point and then some one else over ruled this and had me change it all back and so on and so forth with many other aspects.

I have been “persistent but businesslike” and they did not reply to my emails and they hung up the phone after I left a message.

I think I will write a letter to them and maybe to local news papers and other organizations, I would just like to embarrass them if nothing more. Its not even about the money its ethical, this is a company that won the rights lively hood award they protect human rights and work with the Human Rights Commission.

does any one know if I am aloud to say the company name ? or is it slander?

I’m not sure if it’s slander, but it definitely won’t help your case at all if you willingly try to embarass them. Bear in mind it happens quite a bit, so the local paper is unlikey to print it. However sending them anything will reflect badly on you.

Send them a final letter, as always firm but businesslike, and give a deadline for them to reply. Keep copies of all the correspondence involved. If you hear nothing back, go to someone, a debt collection agency or similar, then leave it to them.


Questions like this are good for organizations like the Graphic Artists Guild and the AIGA

If you are a member they may be able to help you and provide you with contacts and basic legal advise. If you are considering being a member they may help you to get your membership.

The Graphic Artist Guild also has a pretty good book available called “The 10th Edition of Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines”

If you are a full time student AIGA membership only costs $65.

Thanks so much for your help I will look in to the GAG and AIGA for sure. More then helpfull.


write a letter to them and maybe to local news papers and other organizations, I would just like to embarrass them if nothing more

I would most strenuously suggest that you do not write anything derrogatory about their organization. It is slander.

I went through this years ago; the amount due me was about $3,000. A similar situation existed; change orders by people who were un-authorized to ask for them (and my failure to request written, signed, documentation of them). Another twist on your story is that the company (a for-profit) changed ownership during the dispute and the new CEO flat-out denied payment was owed by them (my contact had left the company by then).

I initially handed their account over to a collection agency knowing full well that it would keep 30% of the amount owed to me, but also satisfied knowing that these dead-beats weren’t going to skate without paying someone something.

Three weeks after turning the account over to the collections agency, I got a call from the collection agent informing me that the company he is pursuing is countering that I had over-billed them, and illegally charged them for sales taxes. None of these were ever an issue while the work was transpiring nor after delivery of the product.

Totally pissed off, I retracted the request for the collection services, paid their set-up fee, and thanked them for their assistance.

Then I went down to the county court house and filed a small court claim against the company myself; it cost $24. I did so with the full knowledge that it would be extremely time consuming, very frustrating, and most likely would only allow me to collect, maybe, half of what they owed me … in other words, a loosing situation (when you subtract the time, and expense, required to prepare for court appearances). It is important to realize that the court system will not (nor will any other government agency) help you collect your money; the court merely acknowledges that your claim to it is legitimate.

I did it anyway… pride, vanity, whatever you want to call it, those stinking bastards (with whom I’d had a previously pleasant, and profitable experience) weren’t going to stiff me and have a chuckle over it at the water cooler.

In California, one may not use the services of an attorney in Small Claims Court; you must represent your self (and that includes companies and corporations). A corporation my assign this duty to an officer and that is what this company did; he was their V.P. of Sales.

Well, this VP just happened to have a law degree from Loyola (and was, coincidently, a classmate and personal friend of Johnny Cochrain). He was able to represent the corporation by virtue of the fact that they were not paying him for his legal skills; he was essentially a salesman.

To shorten the story, he used every trick in his book to delay, redirect, and obfuscate, my claim against their company. He even intentionally failed to appear at the court hearing which resulted in the judge awarding me the payment of my fee. Surprise!!! He then, to lengthen the process, filed a series of appeals, interspersed with hand-delivered letters to the court requesting a ‘postponment due to previous business obligations’ … all of which were granted by the judge. These ‘obligations’ were other court cases where he had to make an appearance AS AN ATTORNEY, in the State of Florida (where he DID maintain a legal practice) We were in California … no foul! F UCKER!

What he did not count on was my particular brand of ‘hard-headedness’ and a true wish to ‘get even’ regardless of the cost.

Finally, after the series of appeals (all of which were denied) we moved up the judicial system, and appeared before the Superior Court in our county. He could not ditch this one; failure to appear would have lead to the issue of a ‘contempt of court’ citation for the jerk. The judge was so annoyed that a ‘small claims court’ issue had come before his bench as a result of this guy’s professional performance that he warned him he would cite him, personally, for contempt of court if the issue was not resolved. Which it was within five minutes of us stepping up to the bench before the judge.

I got $1,500 out of the deal; almost a year after I filed the claim.

I also got one hell of an education.

You decide… is $400 worth it?

If you think it is check out the legal resources at;

With small claims and personal representation in mind see:

It isn’t easy, and you’ll spend a lot more than $400 (in lost time) doing it, but there is a certain satisfaction knowing someone didn’t get away with stiffing you and that you know your way around a courtroom.

It will also open your eyes with regard to the reason behind busioness documents.

Always have a contract and a 50% deposit paid before any work starts. I have had a few of these exact circumstances happen to me. Most businesses are profesional but some are down right shaddy.

Hope this helps