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Non-Profits and the Value of Photography

Recently a friend of mine saw a post on a local marketing Facebook page where the Executive Director of a charitable organization was looking for a photographer.  I contacted the Executive Director and had a nice long conversation about the mission of the organization and what the job would entail.  At the end we got to talking about budget and he told me that their budget was $300/day for the photographer and that he had a hard time in his mind justifying more because they want to put as much money as possible into fulfilling their mission.

I’m sure almost every photographer worth their salt has run across this pitch with regard to non profits before.  The temptation is to let the conversation end there and part ways.  That is what I’d normally do.  However, part of what we do sometimes involves educating our potential clients as to the value of what we do and the cost of merely being in business.  So, I sent him the following follow up letter (slightly edited).   In this instance, we weren’t able to come to an agreement, but sometimes it’s worth the try.

“I just wanted to follow up with you after our conversation yesterday.  Oftentimes, people in your position are ambivalent about paying the going rate for a truly good professional photographer.  This often stems from hiring cheaper photographers and getting less than the desired result, and in turn it devalues what truly committed and experienced professionals do.  It’s a struggle at times in my industry to get people to recognize the value of what we do.

For every day we spend shooting pictures, we spend at least a half a day negotiating the details of the job, replying to emails, writing up contracts, editing and adjusting the “raw material” that comes out of the camera, burning DVDs of the images, archiving the images and billing the client.  Additionally, we have very expensive equipment to buy, maintain and upgrade every few years…the same for our computers and software.  We fund our own health insurance, retirement, sick days, business insurance, pay the rent on our studios, buy, maintain and fuel our vehicles so we can get to your locations, pay to build and maintain our websites and other marketing materials and myriad other expenses…this is before we  even break even…let alone pay ourselves a salary…and this is why $300/day is not a sustainable business model. 

Like people who are employed by nonprofits….freelancers who work with non-profits need to make a living.  Just to give you another perspective on this, I’m sure if someone offered you your job as executive director for $20,000 a year with the caveat “we want to put as much money as possible into our mission”….well, you’d start to understand that we all bring our talents to the table and need to be compensated accordingly. 

That being said, I understand that you may or may not be prepared to milk the photographs for what they’re worth.  They could be used on your website, social media campaigns, annual reports, fundraising materials, press releases, etc.

I hope you don’t find this email “out of line”.but I did want to reach out to you to try to give you another perspective  We all have to make a living, and high quality, professional photography has a vast potential to help you further your mission.  It’s an investment.  Ultimately, who you hire and what you pay is up to you.  I’d love to work with you, and build a sustainable business relationship if possible.  Regardless, you have a great mission and I appreciate the work you do.”