PAY UP! Photographers and NGO's and $$
June 28, 2010 § 8 Comments
Should photographers be paid to work for NGO’s?
Well, YES! And no. I mean, of course! Except…sometimes not.
This is a complicated question.
From an organizational perspective, on the one hand you have a scenario like this: a large, international NGO with a significant marketing budget needs to make pictures to chronicle and advertise its work. It has a few different options.
- It can hire a photographer.
- It can work with volunteer photographers.
- It can encourage its employees to also take photographs as a part of their work.
If you look at the International Rescue Committee, for example, they make use of all of these strategies.
On the other hand, you have a tiny organization based in a rural area, without access to technology, or sometimes even electricity. This organization has very limited ability to photograph itself, and very limited funds. This kind of organization has options as well:
- No photography will be used in its work.
- It can find a volunteer photographer.
- It can fundraise, perhaps even with the photographer, in order to pay for the project.
And all organizations have a—perhaps inappropriate—mandate to keep their administrative costs much much lower than their program costs. I.e., donors these days seem to want the money they give to go “straight” to benefits for the clients, not to paying for the desks, equipment, marketing and employee salaries of the organization. That trend tends to put undue pressure on organizations’ marketing budgets to stay low, making them unable to hire a professional photographer. (For more on this problem, check out this paper called the Nonprofit Starvation Cycle in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.)
Now let’s look at the photographers’ perspective.
Some photographers, as journalist Yves Choquette said in his comment to me on PhotoPhilanthropy’s Facebook page, have a day job. They are happy to volunteer their time, and don’t need to be paid. With the increasing popularity of photography around the world, the skill and knowledge about how to make pictures has increased. There are a lot of people who are not professional photographers who can make excellent images in the service of organizations.
There are also career photographers. Some call themselves artists, some call themselves journalists, but for all of them, photography is at the center of their professional identity. Those people need to make money, and they need to be valued. The society at large needs to recognize the importance of the work that they do, if they are going to be able to keep doing it.
However, the industry that has existed around photojournalists over the last few decades is shifting dramatically, as many industries are. I’ve written before about the music industry in relation to photography and the internet, because I think we are seeing successful journalists innovate, just like successful musicians.
One of these innovations is the NGO/journalist partnership, where the traditional client/service provider relationship is being replaced by a mutually beneficial partnership, in which money plays a slightly different role than it has in the past. I just read a fantastic summary of the rising trend of journalists collaborating with NGO’s to produce international news pieces, written by Kimberly Abbott on Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab website. “The picture emerging,” Abbott writes, “is one of journalists who are trying to find new ways to tell important international stories and NGOs that are adapting to meet that need.”
She goes on to say, “An editorial red line the media would have considered completely taboo to cross just a few years ago might be more palatable today as the financial pressures on news organizations continue to mount. Similarly, an NGO offering time, staff or funding to help a news organization might have once seemed far outside of its mission, but today it is an important part of maintaining a voice in a competitive field and ensuring that stories that affect so many lives still reach U.S. audiences.”
There has been a big discussion amongst photojournalists this week on the Lightstalkers discussion board around how much photographers hired by NGO’s should charge. It’s a discussion worth having multiple times, because there is no one answer—it really depends on each specific scenario. The comments posted there strike me as level-headed and practical. I found them well worth reading—they helped me gain a sense of what my own work might be worth. I think both photographers and nonprofit representatives should read them.
PhotoPhilanthropy pursues a few different strategies for supporting photographers and nonprofits.
We help match up volunteer photographers who want to donate their time or design a partnership, and NGO’s with small or nonexistent marketing budgets. The goal is to draw attention to social issues that are going unnoticed. That work is not meant to replace existing media, nor is it an appropriate type of project for all photographers or all NGO’s. It’s simply one of many ways to go about telling stories.
PhotoPhilanthropy also gives grants to photographers who have been able to carry out these kinds of collaborations with NGO’s (whether paid or unpaid) in order to provide social and material support to those people who are trying to use photography to make a difference.
In my own photography, I take a different approach all together. As someone who fits in no conventional categories as a photographer, I actually create long-term partnerships with nonprofit organizations, and I fundraise on behalf of myself and the org.
The benefit to me is that the organization doesn’t control me, or my images, or how I tell the story I want to tell. However, I do want their collaboration, so part of our relationship or partnership agreement is to allow them to influence the project. That ends up benefiting me as well—I learn about the issue I’m covering by communicating effectively with the organization, and I’m forced to think more carefully about the impact my work has on the individuals I photograph.
Of course, the big down side to working like this is that the relationships I build and the fundraising I do don’t pay all my bills, only some of them. So, for now, I’m also a photographer with a “day job.”
Sometimes nonprofits hire photographers. Sometimes photographers volunteer for nonprofits. Sometimes the two entities create a partnership funded by a foundation. I think these are all valid, useful, socially beneficial ways for photographers and NGO’s to interact.
Tagged: activist award, ann goggins gregory, building relationships, collaboration, community, documentary photography, grants, Harvard, innovation, IRC, journalism, Kimberly Abbott, money, music industry, NGO's, Nieman Journalism Lab, partnerships, photography, photojournalism, PhotoPhilanthropy, social innovation, stanford social innovation review, stories, volunteer