How I Got My First Nonprofit Photography Assignment
I was working as a receptionist to pay my bills and pursuing photo projects on the side to feed my soul. I wanted to break into nonprofit photography and make a difference in my community. I just didn't know how. No nonprofit would hire me without experience proving I knew how to work with nonprofits. But how could I get experience without someone hiring me?
I felt stuck in a classic Catch-22 situation – just like many people who write to me and Crystaline here at NGO Storytelling.
But then I came up with a solution. I decided to make an assignment happen for myself. At the time, I was quite interested in the issue of women and families rebuilding their lives after experiencing homelessness. In my research, I learned that many formerly homeless people lose family photos as they shift from temporary living space to temporary living space. I also learned that children's self-esteem is positively impacted when family pictures are displayed at home. I put the two together and decided I would find a local homelessness nonprofit and offer family portrait sessions for free.
After much Googling, I contacted ForKids, an organization helping families out of homelessness. They were excited about my photography offer. They had one condition: they wanted me to sell a low-cost package of professional prints that the families would pay for; they wanted the families to learn that nothing is free. This was something I never would have thought of -- my first lesson in working with a nonprofit. I agreed to sell prints at cost.
I photographed about a dozen families (including one that I documented months later for a longer story). I didn't make any money from the arrangement. But that was my choice. I knew I was gaining experience with a nonprofit, which was what I needed. For a couple years, I kept those family portraits in my portfolio and ForKids as a reference on my resume. I believe both helped me land my first paid nonprofit assignment about a year later. More importantly, everyone was thrilled with their pictures and I learned how to work with a nonprofit.
Photo: A family in Musanze, Rwanda (not one of the formerly homeless families I photographed). © Laura Elizabeth Pohl