Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Non-Profits & Pro Bono Work

I often get requests from people asking if am able to donate my images, or take an assignment at a discount for a good cause, usually from a non-profit group or the like. I like helping others, and do my part to help where and when I can, but this does not mean that I give away my images for free every time I'm asked.

This is also not to say that I don't do Pro Bono work, or that I don't rcommend it, because I do. What I'm saying is you should be the one that decides to call up the organization or your choice, that you feel strongly about, and offer your services to them then.

When I get a request from someone asking me to donate my images, I will take a few things into account. The first is whether I personally believe in what this particular group is doing, and what they stand for. If I don't, I stop right there. No point in doing something for free for someone or something you don't believe in.

If I do like what they do, things can become a little trickier. One thing many people don't realize is that not all "Non-Profits" are charities. In fact, most Non-Profit organizations are not charities, they are businesses, and in order to maintain their tax status cannot post a profit. They have employees that get paid a salary and benefits, they pay for office supplies & company vehicles, they pay their rent, phone, hydro, and water bills, and pay for extravagant get-togethers to thank their supporters. With all this, for some reason, they never seem to want to pay for photographs.

When get asked if I will trade an image (or ten) in exchange for a photo credit or website link, the first thing I usually will try to find out is if the person calling me is a paid employee of this organization. If their answer is yes, the odds of getting anything out of me for free just dropped to nil... What do you think that employee would say if their boss asked them to work for free for a week as a donation to the organization? I am much more likely to work at a discounted rate, or for free if the person calling me is donating their time and energy too.

Do you think someone from this organization would consider calling up their landlord to ask them to donate a months rent in exchange for a link on their website? How about the local office supply store to see if they can donate their copy paper and toner? Maybe Petro-Canada would like to give them free gas for the company vehicle? And while they're at it, maybe their insurance company will insure them for free too, since they're a "Non-Profit". Not likely, so why should photographers?

For those of you reading this that are photographers, especially those of you that are new to the business, do yourself a favour and get over the thrill of being asked to use your images. The fact that someone is asking to use your photo for free usually means that they either a) don't value what you do and the talent you bring, or b) have been turned down by other photographers before you that realized the value of their own work. On a rare occasion they are truly ignorant, and have no idea what we photographers do what we can bring to a project. In this case, try to educate them, let them know what you do, what you charge and why. I highly recommend a book by John Harrington, Best Business Practices for Photographers, it will get you well on your way in the business of photograhy, and has a great section covering this topic. Then check out his blog on the business of being a photographer.

Photography is a business, just like anything else. Profit is not a bad thing. It makes the world go 'round. Non-Profits sometimes forget that profit is how people can afford to make donations to them. Profit is what puts food on my table, and if you want to make it in this business, make sure you're making a profit too. And once you've made a profit, call up the organization of your choosing and give some back.


Cheers, Josh



6 Comments:

Anonymous Snorri said...

Josh you´ve gone all web 2.0 on us - nice blog and I like the integration to your web site.

November 22, 2007 at 5:13 PM  
Blogger Josh McCulloch said...

Hey Snorri,

Thanks for the compliments. I'm really enjoying blogging, it's a great way to keep in touch with other shooters, to share new work and share my knowledge. If you think of any topics you'd like to see, drop me a note.

For those of you that don't know him, Snorri is a very talented shooter, and fellow Western Academy grad. You can check out his work here.

Cheers, Josh

November 22, 2007 at 5:56 PM  
Anonymous Snorri said...

Thank you too Josh, blogging is great agree with you, great vehicle for all things photographic - business and pleasure.

November 28, 2007 at 6:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for posting this. I was just asked to shoot something for a cause that I believe in, but was asked a mere 3 days ahead of time, and for no pay. Actually, my pay was offered as free cover +1, if you can believe that. I feel very undervalued when offered something like that, and have been getting paid too often to accept a free gig without it hurting my name. More importantly than anything, I want to protect my name as a working artist, and not be known as a starving artist. I'm happy there is someone who shares my sentiment, and I look forward to offering my services to other organizations that I believe in once the time is right.

September 6, 2008 at 12:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well put. I coudn't agree more. When starting out it's very easy to be tempted to giving your images away or offering your services for free in exchange for promotion, developing your portfolio or just the thrill of having your work published. But there soon comes a point where you realize that you can only survive as a photographer with a business approach and by valuing your work. Working for small money or free generally is only going to damage the livelyhoods of everyone in the profession. Sadly photographers work is so often undervalued as you pointed out and we the photographers need to be the first to emphasize the worth of the work by commanding rates in-line with the reality of our large outgoings and need for financial stability just like everyone else.

September 17, 2008 at 7:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand your point,and no, you should not be expected to give your images away. But, what about the nonprofits, (since you mentioned nonprofits and their status) that are struggling and really do need assistance? Our nonprofit here in Louisiana really does need assistance, we are supposed to be paid. We are a 501c3, and our funding to the agency has been cut to the point of lay-offs. And Yes, there are people working in this agency like myself, who drive forty-five minutes to work each day, without pay. When the cuts came, I could not just walk away from the homeless people that I help to provide services to. It is by the grace of God that I am able to buy gas and do the things I do for others, as my last daughter just graduated college, so you know about funds. The van that we provide services to these homeless individuals is a 2001, 15 passenger with over 204098 miles. We are in need of supplies as simple as copy paper, and cannot get assistance. I know that there are agencies out there who help people, but we run into situations such as the one you addressed. I just pray that maybe one day someone will hear the cry of nonprofits that are truly making a difference in the lives of those who cannot help themselves. Events Coordinator-Liberty Restoration CDC 985 340 7033 Hammond, Louisiana

May 3, 2010 at 4:09 PM  

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