We have all been asked to donate our photography for ‘the cause’ or a non-profit NGO. And in this economy there seems to be an increase in those requests.
I received this email last week:
Hope this finds all going well for you. I am working on a new visitor guide for the XXXXX County Chamber of Commerce. They received a grant from Travel XXXXX to put it together so it does not have a huge budget. You have a number of beautiful images of the XXXX both summer and winter and I was hoping to get permission from you to use a few of them. We have been working with a few other photographers including Brian XXXXX and they have given the chamber permission to use their images in exchange for photo credit. Let me know if something like that is possible.
Wishing you and your family the best in 2010!
My first thought was the lousy economy and my own business. The assignments are thin and the stock sales are not much better, just like most photographers these days.
I understand this organization like many is also struggling when it comes to revenues from membership, which are down, but these days I really have to think long and hard about the request and who is asking it.
The whole photographic world is scrambling for business, any business, and requests for donations are up.
In this case, the biggest reason is the client is a personal friend who I have done a lot of photography for and she has asked the same request before. In the times of booming business I agreed.
This time however, I re-read the note a few times and then began to think:
- The Chamber has a budget, how much is it?
- Travel guides usually sell advertising so even though they have ‘non-profit’ status from a tax perspective, this is a project meant to generate income.
- My business does not generate income or benefit from tourism in this area. The only financial reward would be if I got paid for the pictures I am being asked to donate.
- Brian XXXX is an incredible photographer and very well known in his niche. Why is he giving photography away? Is his business booming?
Not all Non-Profits are the same.
Goodwill’s 2009 fund raising total was $2.9 billion.
American Rivers 2008 fund raising total was $8 million.
As far as I know both organizations use donated photography and both organizations are certainly worthy causes and deserve all the support the public and we can provide. As business owners we have to consider at what cost?
Many outdoor and nature photographers are just trying to hang on. So the real question I ask is “can either pay for the use of a picture, even a small amount?” I don’t know.
None of my monthly overhead or cost of doing business is negotiable with my vendors or landlord. I would be laughed at if I asked for anything free or donated to me due to the recession.
And there are many organizations that are important to me and for which I would provide free photography. So you have to choose what matters to you.
I am trying to avoid becoming a non-profit business!
Here was my reply in part to my friend (minus the “How are the kids?”):
Nice to hear from you! How are things out your way? ………….As far as donating photography, that is a real tough one these days. The reality of the economy for all photographers, including me, has been difficult at best. It’s a scramble every day to figure out how to earn some business.
I have received more requests for donated photography in the last six months than probably from every other year combined. Nobody has any money or any budgets and I certainly understand why, but neither do I. In better times I donated plenty of photography but due to the market conditions donating photography is a hard pill to swallow when the donation has value.
Years ago when a major ad agency asked me to donate photography to a pro bono cause they were working on, I said no problem. Only later did I find that everybody including the ad agency all received payment in one way or another. I was the only one who donated 100%.
Since then I have established a policy that I am willing to donate to various causes if the end client sends me a letter acknowledging that no one will be paid and that it is a project created strictly from donations: including the ad agency, the printer, and even the direct mail company. Otherwise my contribution has value as well. If one gets paid we should all get paid.
So I realize that is not the answer you were hoping for and I apologize for that. I wish it were different out there.
All the best!
Photo Credit has Little Value to the Photographer
The question on whether or not you agree to provide something free for a photo credit should depend on several factors. Photo credits are great for the ego, but are most noticed by other photographers who wish to know who took the shot and made the sale. I have heard that a photo credit has led to a call from a potential client and could result in a sale and maybe it happened to me in the past.
Is the client selling advertising? I recognize that many non-profits do sell advertising as another fund raising method beyond donations. But a Chamber of Commerce’s mission is to bring business to town that supports their members business. I am not a member of that business community.
For me the real issue is whether all other contributors: The design firm or ad agencies, the printer, the paper company, the writer, or any others involved in the project are donating 100%. If they are then so will I. But if anybody gets paid then I feel I should as well.
In the mean time I will certainly continue to support the causes that are most important to me with all the donations I can muster and there are some good ones. There is CARE, Amnesty International, The Nature Conservancy, and of course Goodwill and American Rivers and in particular, The International League of Conservation Photographers. These organizations do great work and many recognize the costs a photographer may incur shooting for them and cover some of those costs. Others don’t.
The decision should be based on which organization you might be passionate about and wish to support and donate your hard earned work. There is great satisfaction in doing that!