Business Trends
Shooting From The Heart

Whether you are just starting your photography career or ready to give it a boost, consider working with nonprofit organizations. It is the best opportunity for creative and cost effective self-promotion you can find today. Why? One of the greatest challenges to starting and maintaining successful self-promotion is creating passionate and emotional images to sell your work. Even photo veterans find themselves continually looking for ways to gain access to people and places in order to make great images. Access is the key. Finding access to make images you are passionate about can be best done by finding a group who needs your images as much as you need them.

Winifred Meiser is program director, founder, and president of Through Children's Eyes, a nonprofit corporation that uses photography and the arts as educational tools for gifted and talented elementary age children. The children learn to use 35mm cameras, go on field trips in their community, and their work is exhibited locally, regionally, and nationally. Their photography has been displayed at sites from the local schools and libraries to the United Nations. Children from the US as well as Indonesia, Russia, and Armenia have participated.

Seattle area photographer Nancy Clendaniel is best known for photography that reflects her roots as a portrait painter and a photojournalist. Clendaniel tells her story of the gratification and unexpected benefits of working with a nonprofit organization such as Through Children's Eyes.

I asked Clendaniel how she got started and what to look for in a group that needs the kind of photography you want to do. She says, "I first came to work for Through Children's Eyes back in the mid-1980s when I met the director, Winifred Meiser, at the Los Angeles Photography Center. I would say the best resource for finding a nonprofit is tuning in to a cause that matters to you personally, and finding the group that works to support it. In other words, if you are really an avid environmentalist, then you can seek out a nonprofit that works in that field. I don't think you can be involved with a nonprofit in any capacity unless you are also emotionally invested in the cause. Of course, when you are committed with your heart, it's likely your photos will be superb because the pictures you are creating have special meaning."

Meiser adds, "I've utilized several avenues in locating instructors for our program. College students from the photography/arts department at nearby campuses can sometimes receive credits for their work for us. Serious amateur photographers living in the community where the program is held are available from local camera clubs. Professional photojournalists, either self-employed or employed by a local newspaper. The advantage of working with a professional photographer like Clendaniel is that she is the perfect combination of knowledge and talent. She can teach children the basics and joy of photography without overwhelming them technically. At the same time, she is able to create a camaraderie, encouraging the children to seek and present their personal view of the world around them, through their camera."

How much creative freedom do you really get? How do you create situations to make the kinds of images you'd want to use in self-promotion and your portfolio? Clendaniel offers these thoughts, "I usually have total creative freedom when working with nonprofits. Having viewed my portfolio, they have placed their trust in me. Occasionally, they will show me samples of what they do not want and then leave the rest up to me. As a photographer, I like to incorporate my talent for capturing `magical moments' in everyday life into any assignment I take on. I figure they wouldn't have hired me if they didn't want me to replicate this same type of documentary image into their creative concept for a poster, or brochure."

Meiser uses photos from her volunteer instructors for many types of promotional materials, "Instructors document the children at various stages of the program. This photography is used to `show and tell' what our program is about, seeing the children at work on their pictures, and generating community interest in the children's exhibition. Clendaniel's extraordinary talent and background in photojournalism really brings to life the events she photographs. For us, these photos are worth the proverbial thousand words."

Looking at the benefits to the photographer and the nonprofit organization, Clendaniel and Meiser are very enthusiastic. Clendaniel relates some of her other nonprofit experiences, "The biggest benefit is usually being able to work with wonderful people. People who you know you will want to work with again and again. For example, on a recent assignment I handled for The American Red Cross, they are going to use my photos on their calendar for the year 2000. So for me that is not only a great promotion piece, it's high visibility. I was thrilled when the Olympic Music Festival called to tell me that my photo had been selected to use as the promotional poster for the 1999 season. As this poster is plastered in every nook and cranny throughout Puget Sound from spring till late summer, I was tickled pink. I even had the rare treat of being present for the unveiling of the poster, at a $500 a plate fundraising dinner at The Dome in Seattle."

Meiser adds, "There are numerous benefits to the photographers, some tangible, others intangible. The tangible benefits include increased networking, peer and client recognition as a professional photographer, and active community membership at minimal or no cost. The photographer/instructor can take part in raising funds and/or donations of supplies or services for the program by telling past and current clients about the program and asking for their support. They can introduce themselves to potential future clients and invite their support. With the school's permissions, they can contact local press and other media to generate publicity for the children's exhibit and their photography. The intangibles are the personal satisfaction and joy of seeing the children go from zero knowledge to pride in exhibiting their work in the community."

In summary, here are some tips for finding and working with nonprofit groups.

· Start at the library with the "ea Directory" or Encyclopedia of Associations. It is available in the Business Reference section. Also, check with local Chamber of Commerce or your local newspaper's schedule of community events.
· Look for groups who produce promotional material and newsletters. They make good use of your photos and extra copies make great promo pieces for you.
· Meet the board of directors and committee members. These are generally people in the community who you would like to meet but don't have an excuse to call on them. Though they may not directly buy photography they influence people that do hire photographers. Their relationship with you is an endorsement that could be a valuable marketing asset.
· Working for nonprofits has many of the same benefits of a "real" job. Get client references, testimonial letters, and printed pieces and be sure to write your press releases.
· Finally, working with any group gives you the opportunity to practice all the "client" skills you need to run a successful photography business. Not only do you get to shoot from the heart; you'll get a place to practice, learn, and grow in your business.

This article and the work of Through Children's Eyes would not be possible without the sponsoring photographic organizations that have assisted the program with donations. Here are some of the sponsors: Fuji Photo Film U.S.A., Inc., founding sponsor for film; Vivitar Corporation, founding sponsor for camera equipment; Nikon Company, for cameras and materials; Kodak, for instructional materials; Seattle Filmworks, for film, processing, and printing.