Getting Clear: The true cost of free.

January 16, 2024

FREE in large lettering with an asterisk and fine print

An old adage goes: there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Free lunch, in this case, refers to the once-common tradition of saloons in the United States providing a “free” meal to patrons who had purchased at least one drink – an important asterisk attached to the word “free” to make sure costs are covered and the business stays viable and successful.

As with many classic sayings, it now gets taken beyond the original context of hospitality industry economics and applied in a myriad of different ways – from the scientific law of conservation of energy to the business strategy of free internet services. Nonetheless, the gist of this economic proverb is that the word “free” always comes with an asterisk because everything is the result of many other unseen things that went into it.

When it comes to meals, a free lunch may be served but it still costs someone else something to produce, harvest, package, transport, prepare, distribute, and clean up after. Even if money is not exchanged, immaterial currency such as time, labour, resources, and individual skill are invested.

In the end, all of these inputs need to balance the outputs for something to stay sustainable.

Here at Mediation Services, we are no exception. When we put something out for free, it is only possible because of the many resources bolstering it behind the scenes.

For example, take the Conflict 101 webinar that we recently released. It required practical logistics: rent, electricity, and the wide task of organization. Then, there was the equipment: it required gear in the form of lights, camera, ACTION (that last one probably should read microphone but action fits too perfectly)! Anchoring the project, there was the presentation time and talent of an expert (with years of study and experience in conflict resolution behind them). After filming was wrapped, the tedious minutiae of editing began. The footage had to be reviewed – video edits matching the iterating manual that went alongside it until a final product was funnelled through the internet to many personal computers. Oh, and let’s not forget childcare – viral videos with little ones interrupting something serious are only cute the first time.

Clearly, a lot goes into developing a webinar – even when, in this case, it is offered for free. All of these pieces need to be puzzled together to ultimately make it happen.

If you’re feeling any tinge of guilt for accessing our free resources – don’t! Use them, and use them well; that’s what we happily created them for. Our intention in highlighting the behind-the-scenes details is our way of expressing pride in all the hard work that went into creating these offerings. We are excited and grateful to have a web of support that makes what we do possible.

Puzzle pieces with different resources listed on each

It’s worth taking a moment to appreciate this. Hidden within everything offered are the many inputs that brought it to fruition. The prerequisites of effort and generosity are the bare minimum to create something that is given freely. Beyond the dollar amount is the true cost.

At Mediation Services, we couldn’t do the work we do without the financial support of private donors, local governments (the Province of Manitoba and City of Winnipeg), and community organizations (like The Winnipeg Foundation and United Way Winnipeg). We are grateful for their support and trust in us.

Finances are just one piece of the puzzle; our services wouldn’t be possible without the daily commitment of our office staff and volunteers. These folks bring the knowledge, dedication, and potential that frankly is hard to put a price tag on.

Take a look at our 2023 year in review, where we reflect on the novel things we were able to accomplish (in addition to the community services that have been our core for decades). This is a glimpse into what the pieces add up to.

Mediation Services is a small organization that aims to have an outsized footprint, facilitating peaceful interactions that transform relationships. We are passionate about what we do and we couldn’t do it without you.

You can support us in a variety of ways:

  • Enroll in an on-demand webinar: These resources are available at your fingertips instantaneously and are priced anywhere from free to fair (in our humble opinion). Check out the full offerings here!
  • Spread the word: Tell someone about our conflict engagement training opportunities or register yourself for our skills-based learning (see details here for current online or in-person options).
  • Monetary: We need your financial support to add stability to our funding model. Please consider making a monthly donation to further our work in peace-building and restorative justice. You can donate online through our Canada Helps page or send an e-transfer directly to Mediation Services is a registered charity and tax receipts will be issued.

As we look to the coming year, we believe it is important to get clear about the true cost of things.

Your support today can help strengthen our community tomorrow. Thank you for being a part of the work we do.

If you have questions,
please don’t hesitate to call.


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