Should Photographers Work for Nonprofits for Free Part II
As some of you know, I do a few pro bono projects per year for causes that I believe in. I’ve invested time and energy learning how photographers can work with nonprofits without hurting the nonprofit photography industry. Over the years, I’ve also developed created my own guidelines for doing free work.
In the past few years, I’ve been discouraged by my experiences working for free. I’d start off a project with lots of enthusiasm from the organization, but as the project progressed I felt like organizations didn’t value the my time, wanted to shift the scope of work midway through, or literally stopped communicating with me. I had to wonder: are pro bono projects worth the sacrifice?
I do pro bono projects for several reasons: to have more creative control over my work; to educate small nonprofits on the value of professional media providers; and because it feels good to work on causes that I care about. But, I was tired of feeling undervalued in the process and that nonprofits were just looking to save a buck.
Shortly after I moved to Nepal, an interesting opportunity fell into my lap. And despite my reservations, I decided to give pro bono one more go. Here are a few things I learned along the way that I added to my list of guidelines. I hope that they help you if you have similar experiences as a nonprofit or a media maker.
Work With Organizations That Seek You Out
I’d never considered how important this was until some of our awesome readers commented on my post exploring whether photographers should do free work for nonprofits. Many of them said that they had better overall experiences working for free when they were approached by nonprofits and not the other way around. When I look at my track record, the organizations that approach me certainly seemed to appreciate the work more than the organizations that I sought out.
Be Very Specific About What You Want From The Work
Because of my negative experiences in the past, I went into my initial meeting with the nonprofit with a very clear idea of what I needed from the project. This year, I’ve really wanted to expand my portfolio from media maker to story designer/media maker. Instead of being brought in to simply shoot video and photography, I wanted to help the organization find the most compelling visual story, do photography and video, and build fundraising campaigns from those stories. I felt like being part of the entire process would help me to start to better understand what kinds of images and stories work for fundraising. I wanted a real life campaign to help show future clients what I was capable of creating and a concrete example of what amazing storytelling can do for fundraising.
Be Firm In Your Boundaries
While I’d definitely say that this pro bono project was a success, it did get off track towards the end of the campaign. Originally we had planned to do a three-month rollout. Each month had a multimedia piece, a written story with portraits, and a series of smaller stories that were created for social media by the director and communications volunteer.
During the production process on the final month’s video, we ran into some technical glitches where we needed to record additional voice over, expanding the scope of the project past the three-month time frame that I had allocated.
I ultimately decided to pull the plug on the third video piece and we converted it into another written piece with portraits for the campaign. Altogether, I ended up creating two videos, four written pieces with edited portraits, and doing supplemental advising on the organization’s social media stories.
I was disappointed about not doing the third video, but I also knew that extending the project over another month would require hours of additional work that I had not initially planned for. The great thing about doing work for free is that you get to establish your own boundaries. Saying no was ultimately the right choice for me.
Free Is Not Without Value
Shortly after starting on this free project, I got an inquiry to do paid story consulting from a startup nonprofit. I already had a story communications plan, editorial calendar, and one month of stories to share with them from my pro-bono work. They loved what they saw; they hired me and we’re in the process of completing their first Kickstarter campaign. Sometimes investing time and creative energy into doing a free project that has concrete benefits for your business.
I’m still learning to strike the delicate balance between feeling valued and working for free. But, my faith in pro bono work has been restored and I feel optimistic about moving forward.
I’d love to hear from you. Have you had a good or bad experience as a photographer doing pro bono work or as an employee of a nonprofit working with a pro bono photographers?
Image Above ©2016 Crystaline Randazzo Photography, LLC.
Moti Maya was only seventeen when she experienced her first earthquake – an 8.4 magnitude shock that struck Nepal on January 15th, 1934. Eighty-one years later her home was destroyed by another massive quake that also killed four people in her small village. After two months of living in the destruction with very little food, Maya Moti left everything she knew and went by helicopter to start a new life in Dhola.
She spent the last year living in a tent, but remains in good spirits. She finds all these changes in her life exciting and says nothing remains for her family in her old village. She expects she will die soon but is pleased that her daughter, son, and grandchildren will have a safe home to live in.
Moti Maya’s wish is that her community will live in harmony while undertaking their project of building their 55 homes with Shenpen a nonprofit in Nepal.