What You Should Charge Nonprofits for Photography

Posted by | · · · · · | Business · Nonprofits · Photography

One of the top questions people ask me and Crystaline is “How much should I charge nonprofits for photography?” They want to know about standard industry rates, which is important and should be a factor in determining what to charge. You don’t want to undercut the whole industry – and probably your future self, when you want or need to raise your rates one day.

But a more important question to ask is, “How much do I need to earn per year to cover my business expenses and pay myself a salary and benefits?” This number is determined by calculating your cost of doing business. Basically, you add up your annual business expenses plus salary and (for those of you in the United States) health insurance costs. You divide that number by the number of days you expect to work in a year. You’re left with the minimum amount of money you should charge in one day to break even. The National Press Photographers Association has a solid calculator for figuring out your cost of doing business.

Calculating Your Cost of Doing Business (CODB)

To keep this simple, let’s say your business expenses plus health insurance and other benefits each year totals $10,000 and you want to earn $40,000 as a salary. That’s a total of $50,000. Then let’s say you expect to work about 200 days out of the year. So $50,000 divided by 200 equals $250 per day that you need to charge – at the very least – to break even on your business.

One thing to remember is that even if you want to work 200 days a year, it might not happen, and you might not work full days even when you are working. It’s hard to predict the future, but it’s better to underestimate rather than overestimate the number of days you’ll work in one year.

Among the many cost of doing business factors that photographers need to think about is:

  • The cost of software. This can really add up. Last year I spent $890 on licenses or cloud subscriptions for Microsoft Office, Transcriva (transcription software), Photoshop, Lightroom, Premiere Pro, After Effects and Freshbooks (accounting software).
  • The cost of equipment insurance. Your camera and lenses are the source of your livelihood and you need to insure them. If you live in the United States and you’re making money from your photography, then your homeowners or renters insurance won’t cover your gear. There may be some exceptions, but in general, you’ll need to buy a separate policy for your camera equipment. And, if you’ll be going abroad with your gear for work, you’ll likely need to add on a sometimes-expensive rider covering your cameras and lenses for international travel. This article from PetaPixel offers insurance options. In the past I’ve used Travelers Insurance and Hays Companies. For the sake of transparency I should say that insurance is one of those things I haven’t made time to invest in since moving back to the U.S. last year. No company would insure me while I lived overseas for 3.5 years, so thoughts of insurance fell to the wayside. But writing this post is a great reminder to take care of business.
  • The cost of emergency medical insurance. A handful of organizations I work with require me to have emergency medical coverage when I’m working with them abroad in case I need to be medevaced with an injury or in case my body needs to be transported after I die while working. It’s not fun to think about, but it’s part of the job. I use SOS International for my emergency medical insurance.

As you calculate your cost of doing business, don’t forget to add in saving money for retirement (I have a SEP IRA and a Roth IRA) and saving money for your emergency fund. Don’t worry – this is as Suze Orman as I’ll get on you. I do love talking about personal finance, though.

Using Your CODB to Calculate What You Charge Clients

Let’s say you’ve determined you need to make at least $250 per working day, as in the example I gave above. This is not what you charge the client. You charge two, three or even five times more. Why?

Many photographers choose to charge their clients a single day rate for their shooting days, but you need to consider the time you spend preparing for a shoot (emails, phone calls, planning, researching) and the time you spend preparing files after a shoot (captioning, color correcting, file organizing). I charge separately for shooting, editing and project management. That’s all working time and it needs to be accounted for, otherwise we’re all subsidizing the cost of our assignments.

Second, what kind of budget does your client have? That should be one of the first questions you ask a client: “What is your budget?” Some organizations have more money than you might think, and you just have to convince them that visual storytelling is worth paying for. American nonprofits must file Form 990 with the IRS every year. This document details the organization’s assets, liabilities, salaries of key employees, and other financial information. It’s a good way to see how much money an organization might have for marketing, i.e. storytelling purposes. (The Foundation Center’s website has an excellent Form 990 finder.)

For example, I might look at a nonprofit’s Form 990 and see that it has a very small budget. I won’t lower my creative fee for the organization, but I definitely try to be flexible in shifting some project management duties to them — like researching music for a video or organizing and renaming files or captioning all the photos — so that they can save a bit of my time and their money.

Finally, what kind of image licensing arrangement do you have with your clients? Are they asking for a copyright buyout, which means they own all the photo rights and you own nothing? Are they willing to share the copyright with you, so that you can resell the images if you wish? Or will you outright own the images and license them to clients for a number of years? (I sometimes bundle this fee into my day rate.) You can read more about image licensing in this post Crystaline wrote a couple years ago.

In Conclusion ….

I know a lot of you started reading this in the hopes I’d throw out a figure that you should charge your clients. I didn’t do that because everyone’s cost of doing business is different. Everyone should calculate their CODB and know their break-even number.

That said, here are some numbers for you.

If you feel confident you can turn in solid work that meets and even exceeds the client’s expectations, I wouldn’t charge less than $500 per shoot day. I start at $600 per day for photography. My rate goes up from there depending on the licensing and copyright agreement, the client’s budget, whether or not I think the client will be easy or hard to work with, and whether or not there’s a potential for repeat work with the client.

Good luck in your negotiations!

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Photo: (From top to bottom) Money from Laos, Ghana, Haiti and India. © Laura Elizabeth Pohl


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