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Working with Non-profits

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I tumbled into photography while I was struggling to stay in New York after arriving from India with less than a dollar in my pocket and a visa that only lasted a month. In 1968, my plans were to become a fold singer; New York City was full of hippies and music was everywhere. This lady was listening to me sing in the village and asked me if I would come and audition at the United Nations’ choral group. I got the part and she got me a job as a messenger and took care of my visa problem. I won the grand spires in a photo-contest that led me to a job in the United Nation’s Photo Unit as a darkroom technician.

I had worked for 20 years as a photojournalist and I had a nervous breakdown after my coverage in Rwanda in 1994. At that point, I wanted to turn my camera towards nature and wildlife. Since I come from India and tigers are endangered, I decided to turn my photography towards documenting the tigers. I am also very fond of cats.

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This tiger documentary was a coincidence. Mary Fereira who is a United Nations Television (UNTV) documentary producer approached me and asked if I would be willing to share my tiger images and let them follow me while I was in the jungle in India and film with me. So last year they did the filming in India. During the 30 years I worked with the United Nations, I was a photojournalist covering crisis around the world of less fortunate people who suffered during wars and natural disasters. So to be featured as a wildlife photographer was a challenge and thrill.

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I want people to be aware of the delicate situation of these tigers existence in our ever changing world and needs. I want people to realize that we all have an obligation to protect our wildlife and the land we live in. There is an ancient saying that this Earth is given to us on loan and we must take the responsibility to nurture and safekeep it for our children and their children.

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Even though I have retired from my regular job as a photojournalist, I still work everyday in my studio in Yonkers. I make presentations at universities, schools, conduct workshops, and teach photography. As I am writing this, I am getting ready to leave for China on an invitation to make a presentation to 1,400 students in Beijing next week.

To see more of John Isaac’s work, visit his website: www.johnisaac.com

Manuela Marin Salcedo is a research and development team member and content developer at Momenta Workshops. Her expertise is in visual communications and social media. In addition to her work for Momenta, Manuela is working on long-term, independent multimedia projects. Her work has been featured at LookBetween 2014, Fototazo, and Light Work. She was also chosen to participate in the 2014 New York Times Portfolio Review. 

Working with nonprofits provides the opportunity to produce important imagery that can spark global dialogue. The experience can be both rewarding and fulfilling for visual creators. However, many photographers fail to price appropriately (or even at all) for their services.

I have worked with the team at Momenta Workshops to put together a basic list of top tips to consider when beginning your exploration of the nonprofit photography marketplace.

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The James House Organization provides community-based child and youth care development programs in Hout Bay, South Africa. Photo © Lukas Spieker/Momenta Workshops 2015.

1. Know if a nonprofit can afford you

Nonprofits who value good imagery will understand strong visuals have an immediate impact on their donors. Before meeting with a client, you’ll need to do your research and see if the group has the budget to afford you. Chances are if they have a staff of more than 10 people, a nice office, and big donations coming from corporations… they can afford you. So negotiate reasonably, and find a way to make their budget work for their needs.

2. Understand their visual needs

Congratulations! They’ve hired you. Now, you’ll want to be clear on their visual needs and desires before you go out on the shoot. What kinds of issues is this nonprofit grappling with? What images do they tend to use most often? Do they want single image or a photo story? These are all questions you’ll need answers to before you begin photographing.

3. Be clear about your deliverables

Before going into the field, you will also want to be clear about what they can expect from you in terms of deliverables. For example, there is no need to provide them with the RAW images, especially if they do not have the software to process them. So, be upfront if you’re only handing over jpegs. Additionally, be clear about how long they are allowed to use the imagery, and get it in writing. Then, set a reminder on your calendar on the day their use expires. This way, you can reach out to see if they’d like to renew their contract or even hire you to produce new imagery.

4. Be honest with your imagery

Though you are taking what may be considered promotional imagery for marketing purposes, remember nonprofits deal with issues rooted in reality, and their audience will appreciate the real moments you document. For example, anybody that has photographed a group of schoolchildren before knows that things are not fine and dandy at all times. Smiles can turn into frowns in an instant. But explain to the client that these situations provide the opportunity for a volunteer to hug or comfort the upset child, and you’ll want to capture that gesture.

5. Don’t forget to follow up

Follow through is key to making lasting clients. Ask the client what they liked and what they didn’t like from your shoot. Take criticism constructively, and work on that during the next shoot. Follow up with them in 1-2 months to see how the images are working for them and ask if they need more work done during the coming months, the holidays, special events, etc. Keeping in touch with clients will help put yourself above the rest of the pack and keep you valuable to them for their imagery needs!

If you’re interested in going into more detail about these topics, Momenta offers 10% off to all liveBooks members for our workshops, including the one-day The Business of Nonprofit Photography seminars as well as our longer Working with Nonprofits series with Leica Camera. Simply use the discount code LIVEBOOKS. You can learn more about our nonprofit business skills workshops here.

 

Momenta Workshops offers a variety of workshops from one-day business skills seminars, to personalized multimedia training, to their popular Project Series: Working with Nonprofits workshops in collaboration with Leica Camera. By helping storytellers expand their skills, Momenta explores how to harness that passion into social change. The workshops seek to train attendees to witness the world in a new way and use their camera as a force of change.

Jamie Rose is Founding Partner and Director of Workshops for Momenta, which specializes in photography, video, and multimedia workshops around the globe. Prior to the founding of Momenta, Jamie worked as an international photojournalist on five continents, won awards and grants for her documentary photography, and was contracted with some of the world’s largest media and nonprofit organizations, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Global Fund, and Doctors Without Borders, among others.

Q: Would you tell us about your upcoming workshops?

JR: The Momenta Workshops staff has wrapped up our 2014 year with our final workshop on business skills during the FotoDC festival, and our lineup for 2015 is going to be outstanding! If you are interested in nonprofit photography, we have two domestic workshops in 2015: Project New Orleans in April and Project San Francisco in September. Over the course of these five-day workshops, we assign each student to a different local nonprofit to create a photo or a multimedia piece about the organization’s mission. Project New Orleans fills up to capacity every year and is held in the most rollicking city in the US. This is the first year for our San Francisco workshop, and interest is very high for working with the city by the Bay. Additionally, if you want to get out of the country and work with international nonprofits next year, our two very special workshops overseas are Project Colombia and Project Sierra Leone. Each student will work with a deserving nonprofit and use their photography as a force of social change. Throughout the two-week workshop, students will have life-changing experiences, make powerful visual stories, and create connections with their subjects in foreign countries that will last for years to come. If you just want a quick boost of business skills, we recommend The Business of Nonprofit Photography one-day workshop series, where we explore the ins-and-outs of making money working for nonprofits. These workshops will take place at Leica stores in San Francisco and Los Angeles in 2015. Finally, Leica sponsors all of our nonprofit workshops, one of the best perks of our Project Workshop Series. Students may check out a Leica camera to work on their nonprofit photo story. And truly, nothing beats the Leica M system for documentary coverage. Our students create beautiful photo stories with Leicas every year during these workshops.

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Project Uganda student Whitney Curtis – www.whitneycurtis.com 

 

Q: Are your workshops geared more toward being creative or improving one’s technical skills? Or both?
JR: I’d say both, plus one extra. Yes, we focus on storytelling and the creative process. However, many of our students are looking for a deeper learning experience with Momenta than just shooting tips. Many established professionals come on our workshops strictly for the one-on-one feedback during their daily, one-hour editing sessions with an instructor. They seek an environment where they can network with like-minded peers and dive into concepts with editors to help them find a fresh outlook on their work.

However, Momenta’s model doesn’t just stop at the creative and technical. We also have a series of lectures on building business skills necessary to work with nonprofits and be sustainable in today’s competitive marketplace. We want students to learn to be successful in both their craft and their business.



 

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Bali: Island of the Gods student Jessica Koscielniak – www.jessicakoscielniak.com

 

Q: What differentiates your workshops from others?
JR: We keep our workshops small with a personal touch and limit our workshops to less than 10 a year. We don’t have a desire to be a huge company with tons of products. We focus on quality documentary training in real-world situations with an outstanding team of instructors. By keeping our workshops limited to 15 or fewer attendees and as many as five instructors on our longer workshops, we maintain an intimate learning experience. We focus on each student’s individual goals during daily 1-on-1 editing sessions, instead of herding everyone into group edits. We balance this with nightly sessions that include discussions, slideshows, and presentations that help to bolster inspiration in a group atmosphere. At orientation, we tell our students, “It is your workshop.” And we mean it. Students and staff work together to craft each person’s experience for the best outcome for their goals. Our alumni will back up that statement. We have a very tight group of past students (many of whom return for multiple workshops) and they have coined themselves the Momenta Family. That network extends far beyond the last day of the workshop, and many have remained friends, shooting buddies, and even have reunions around the world. We pride ourselves in fostering community.



 

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Project Colombia instructor Charlotte Kesl – www.charlottekeslphoto.com/charlotte-kesl-photography

Q: I’d love to get a little background on why you host workshops and what you hope others will get out of them?


JR: In my personal work with Momenta Creative and as a journalist, I realized the visual needs of nonprofits are not effectively met in many communities. Likewise, we found visual storytellers were hungry to learn about how to shoot for a nonprofit. When we founded Momenta, we chose to focus the majority of our lineup on nonprofit photography training workshops and the public response has proven to be inspiring.

 Nonprofits can communicate their mission and entice donors more easily with custom photographs and video. Furthermore, these organizations have budgets, and many are willing to pay for beautifully-crafted visuals. This is not a market often explored by photographers. Our goal with these workshops is to open the nonprofit world to photographers who may not have realized it existed before, teach them the business skills necessary to work with these organizations and empower them to make thoughtful work that sparks dialogue. We also work with our nonprofit partners to help them realize and value the power of strong visuals.



 

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 Project India student Dana Pugh – www.danapugh.com

 

Q: What are some of the unexpected benefits one might get from attending these workshops?


JR: Three things: Inspirational instructors who are excellent mentors and coaches, extended lectures on developing business skills and a supportive alumni network after the workshop ends. I could add that we have a gang load lot of fun too, but that’s a given!

 

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Project India student Chuck Cecil – www.cecilimages.com

Q: What are the most important things for the attendees to realize when they participate in a workshop, to help them get the most out of the experience?


JR: Whether it’s a Momenta workshop or another company’s workshop, an open mind and good attitude is the key to a great experience. We encourage every student to get ready to put in long hours and have a willing approach for creative exploration. One of our founders, Seth Butler, encourages students to “embrace mindfulness” while on the workshop and when shooting in the field. That mindfulness can create great leaps with their work. A Momenta workshop is going to be an intense, exciting experience because students are packing a hefty amount of learning into a short amount of time. However, the payoffs are incredibly rewarding. We remind students to stop, breathe and take a moment to truly soak in the experience and allow themselves to be enlightened by it.



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Project India student Robert Dodge – www.robertdodge.com

Q: Was attending workshops instrumental to help you become the photographer that you are now? If so, how did they do that?
JR: 

I still attend workshops! I wouldn’t be where I am today without a commitment to my education, and that isn’t just defined by college. When I was starting out, I took weekend workshops, attended the Northern Short Course every year, and went to specific skills building seminars. The workshops I have attended in the past helped me to grow my knowledge base, network with other photographers, and learn new skills to further my career. Whether you attend a Momenta Workshop or any other learning experience out there, I would encourage photographers to make continuing education a priority every year. It’s a big world, and there are great learning experiences to be had.  We’d welcome any of your readers to join us on one of ours!

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Project India student Frank Rohrig – www.frankrohrig.com

To learn more about Momenta’s workshops line up, please visit www.momentaworkshops.com.

Considering that today is World AIDS Day, this seemed like the perfect time to highlight a new book from photographer Karen Ande, Face to Face: Children of the AIDS Crisis in Africa. Although hardly the first person to document this topic, Karen’s emphasis on telling positive stories is unusual. And her technique presents a hard — but important — question for documentary photographers: Do too many images of suffering make people feel helpless to improve things?
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These three women are members of a granny support group that meets weekly to discuss issues and solve problems related to caring for their many young charges. ©Karen Ande

Miki Johnson: Tell me about the book you just released with Ruthann Richter, Face to Face: Children of the AIDS Crisis in Africa. What was the impetus of this project and what were you hoping to achieve with it?

Karen Ande: This book represents the culmination of seven years of work. The project began in 2002 when I was traveling in Kenya with my husband and friends. Our tour guide asked me if I’d like to visit an orphanage she had opened in the town of Naivasha and photograph the children, whose parents had died of AIDS.

I agreed to do it, thinking it would be a one-time visit that might result in a few shots she could use for fundraising. I did not realize that the children would charm me and that their survival hung in such a delicate balance. The orphanage ran out of rice the day I was there.

We left them with some money for food and I eventually went home and began to print the photographs. When I saw the images emerge in the developing tray I realized that I had an opportunity and a decision to make. I could choose to become involved in this issue or not. I chose to get involved, to reach out to nonprofits who were already supporting projects, to make multiple trips to document this issue. It has taken an enormous amount of time and personal finances, but I have never looked back.

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Vannah is only 15 years old but is caring for five younger brothers and sisters after their parent's death from AIDS. ©Karen Ande

I am driven by this issue — 12 million children have been orphaned by AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. There is little infrastructure to care for the children, but many local people whom I have met through NGO’s have creative viable projects that make a difference in these children’s lives. I hope this book will convince people to take a close look at the children I’ve met and begin to care enough to try to help them.

MJ: You’ve said that when you started photographing it was important to you to focus on the positive, things are getting better and people who are making a difference. Why was this so important to you?

KA: People do not hang around to be depressed. The media overexposes us to images of suffering I think, consistently giving us two messages: 1) there is really nothing one person can do to affect these overwhelming problems, and 2) money donated to Africa will be diverted by corrupt governments and aid agencies and never get to the people who need it.

In fact there is a great deal one person can do if they know how. If you donate to organizations working with in-country activists who know and understand their communities’ needs, the money is not wasted. In fact it is often the best way to help, as these projects are generally successful and sustainable. We list many NGO’s in our book that support these types of projects. More »

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of giving a presentation to members of the conservation, media, and photography communities as part of the WildSpeak program at The WILD Foundation‘s World Wilderness Congress in Merida, Mexico. WildSpeak was created by the International League of Conservation Photographers, four days of presentations showing conservation organizations the power of visual storytelling and persuading them to make more room in their budgets for collaboration with conservation photographers.

The presentation I was part of, “New Media and Creating the Groundswell,” focused on using new online tools to disseminate conservation messages. The other speakers introduced me to several fascinating initiatives that I want to share with the RESOLVE community — by synthesizing photography, education, technology, and social action, they highlight trends that I believe will become increasingly important as the new media landscape evolves.

ARKive_WildscreenCollect and Contextualize
ARKive
is an initiative by Wildscreen to create a digital library of text, photos, and video of a huge number of the world’s animal and plant species. In some ways, the vast number of images available online do not become truly useful and powerful until they are organized and searchable in a collection like this.

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Frank Biasi, director of Conservation Projects for National Geographic Maps, demonstrated two projects he’s working on that are using maps as the main navigation tool for a site. The Global Action Atlas helps connect people with social action opportunities in specific areas of the world, and LandScope.org is a map-based resource for the land-protection community and the public. As geotagging becomes automatic and people interact more across all geographic barriers,  information organized around a map structure will undoubtedly increase.
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WildCoast is the perfect example of a non-profit taking their message far beyond the common trap of “preaching to the choir.” By signing up a sexy model and a Lucha Libre celebrity, this organization focused on saving coastal ecosystems won major victories for sea creatures. They also disseminate much of their information as comics and animated videos, something that Médecins Sans Frontières has also explored with their beautiful graphic novel, The Photographer.

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Matt Peters, the founder of Pandemic Labs, which ran social media strategy for the entire Wild9 congress, wrapped up with a wonderful presentation about the way online information tools can help keep people who connect at events like Wild9 connected and moving forward with their ideas long after the sessions end.

The Wild9 Live page collected blog posts in three languages, tweets about Wild9, live streams of many presenters, and Qik videos streamed from delegates’ cell phones, letting people from around the world (they received hits from around 80 countries) feel like they were part of the congress. And, possibly more important, now all that information is archived and available online. You can see the presentation videos at the Wild9 USTREAM page and even check out my presentation about creating clean, easy-to-navigate websites that drive visitors to act, not just look.

Robert Glenn Ketchum is a legendary figure in the conservation photography community — largely because of his revolutionary publishing model, which ensures that his photo books have a tangible impact. He shared his ideas and advice for photographers interested in doing the same on RESOLVE. (Clicking on the image below will take you to his first post — be sure to check out numbers 2 and 3 also.)

Former BBC radio producer Benjamin Chesterton and photojournalist David White, as the multimedia production team duckrabbit, build high-quality multimedia pieces, provide insights on their blog, and help photographers through multimedia training sessions. Once a month on RESOLVE, Ben and/or David highlight and explain a multimedia piece that breaks a “rule,” uses a new technique, or creatively solves a common problem.

I’m writing this from a small hotel in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where duckrabbit and the Bangladeshi photographer Sheikh Rajibul Islam have been working on a documentary about the effects of climate change on this beautiful country.

If the scientists’ predictions are right, up to 20 million Bangladeshi’s will become environmental refugees in the next 50 years. There is no bigger long-term story than the havoc man is wreaking on nature.

It would be easy for us at duckrabbit to reduce our stories about Bangladesh to the most brutal, the most shocking. This is always a temptation for photojournalists looking for the money shot, for their World Press award, but it’s a cheap and ultimately destructive way to capture the world because it reduces people to the status of victims.

At the BBC I used to produce Costing The Earth, their flagship environmental documentary programme. We always strived to tell a balanced story, beyond emotion, because understanding is more important than shock, and debate is more powerful than bashing someone over the head with a message.

Adam Westbrook, a multimedia journalist and blogger, expressed this point brilliantly in a post about a controversial video advertisement by the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontieres:

“We want true stories … but we also want balance.”

“We want true stories, and we want them as gritty as the real world is. But we also want balance — and we recognize a third-world-cliché when we see it.”

There are plenty of weak multimedia pieces about the environment out there that suffer from the same clichéd black-and-white photography and lack of balance in their storytelling, but let’s not blow any more CO2 on their two-dimensional approach. Instead I want to point you to a visually stunning and deeply thoughtful piece of work by Toronto Star photographer Lucas Oleniuk.

Airsick: An Industrial Devolution is designed to persuade us that the earth is slowly drowning in CO2. Part of why it works so well is that, instead of focusing on apocalyptic images of the developing world, the piece is rooted in the familiar, in the industrialized world. I can’t watch this and not feel part of the problem. That is powerful multimedia.

(duckrabbit would like to thank the CBA for funding their recent Bangladesh trip.)

When RESOLVE was just a fledgling, we ran two posts from Greg Gibson titled “It’s never too late to start a personal project.” Since then we’ve seen so many great personal projects, and heard about even more that are still just ideas. By highlighting our faves in this new “It’s Personal” column, we hope to encourage more photographers to turn their great idea into a great personal project.
Garrett with his mom and dad. ©André Hermann

Garrett with his mom and dad. ©André Hermann

Name: André Hermann
Website: www.andrehermannphoto.com
Age: 35
Location: Oakland, CA
Full-time job: Visual storyteller

Personal project name and description
Garrett: The Boy Beneath The BandagesEpidermolysis Bullosa, or, EB, is a rare genetic skin disease that most people have never heard of, yet it affects 100,000 children across the United States alone. Children born with this disease lack the ability to produce the collagen-7 protein that acts as a glue to bind the inner and outer layers of skin together. Their skin is extremely sensitive and fragile, with open wounds similar to third degree burns that never heal. The slightest friction or bump causes the skin to blister and break down. EB kids live relatively short lives, wrapped in bandages and in constant pain.

This series of images tells the story of a 12-year-old boy named Garrett, his family, and the challenges they face every day because of this debilitating disease. EB not only takes a toll on its victims and their families, it also affects their friends, caregivers, and the communities that help them. Through these images, I will attempt to give a face to this horrific and unpublicized disease.

When and why did you start it?
I started work on this story in 2008 as my thesis while pursuing a masters in photography at the Academy of Art University. During the summer semester of 2007, I answered an ad on the school’s job board. A nonprofit organization that ran a week-long summer camp for kids with genetic skin disorders needed a photographer. I jumped at the opportunity.

During the week of camp, I met Garrett and his family. I had never heard of EB. In a weird way, I feel like this story found me. Everything just seemed to fall into place. Garrett’s family and I both recognized this as an opportunity to gain much needed awareness for the disease. I pitched the idea to them. I was nervous because I was asking them to enter a 1-year+ commitment without knowing much about me. They agreed to the idea, and here we are today.

Do you have a particular image you are especially drawn to so far? More »

Amy oversees one of the most important photo grants out there, because instead of emphasizing just money or prestige, it focuses on results. Photographers applying for the Open Society Institute’s Distribution Grant are required to partner with an organization working in the community they’re documenting and to strategize how to create positive social change with their images. I’m sure she’ll have some great insights, therefore, into how photographers can work with NGOs to achieve their larger goals.

Amy Yenkin

www.soros.org/initiatives/photography
I am the director of the Open Society Institute’s Documentary Photography Project, based in New York City. Through exhibits, workshops, grantmaking, and public programs, this project explores how photography can shape public perception and effect social change.

I joined OSI in 1994, helped establish the Moving Walls exhibition in 1998, and in 2004 developed and launched OSI’s Documentary Photography Project. Prior to OSI, I worked in Washington, D.C., as the director of government relations for NAFSA: Association of International Educators, where I represented U.S. colleges and universities in lobbying the U.S. Congress and government agencies on immigration policies affecting foreign students and the hiring of foreign faculty and researchers. I received a BA in history from the University of Michigan.

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I’ve spent a decade supporting documentary photographers who devote years to personal projects. These photographers are thinking beyond getting a few images published in a newspaper or magazine — they want to have real impact. This happens when they:

  • are deeply connected to the communities they document
  • are working closely with (although not necessarily for) the NGOs/advocates in the community
  • know their target audience and develop an innovative distribution strategy (not just books and art gallery exhibitions) best suited for reaching that audience
  • partner effectively with advocates to distribute the work

Working with advocates/NGOs can greatly enhance a project’s reach and provide a photographer with on-the-ground contacts and assistance, as well as financial support. But there are challenges as well.

NGOs are not media organizations and have a different relationship to photographers. They also have their own agendas, which may or may not dovetail with a photographer’s. Sometimes there is a match. Sometimes not –- in which case, it may just be an assignment, not a long term relationship.

Click here for a list of all other “After Staff” posts.

Many photojournalists love the idea of working with NGOs since it lines up well with their philosophy and style of image making. The reality, however, is that most NGOs have an unsophisticated understanding of visual storytelling and are used to getting photos for free. With that in mind, Chris Tyree and Stephen Katz, along with a crack team including other former staffers, founded Wéyo, a visual consulting firm and content producer for nonprofits. I knew the potential impact of inventive image collaboration from talking with Valenda Campbell, CARE’s senior photo editor, and Najlah Hicks, the founder of Do1Thing.
An image from Wéyo illustrating a program in the Dominican Republic that teaches young mothers pre-natal and infant care.

An image from Wéyo illustrating a program in the Dominican Republic that teaches young mothers pre-natal and infant care.

Chris Tyree

In the beginning, Wéyo co-founder Stephen Katz and I started talking about how we could turn our photojournalistic skills and passion for working with nonprofits into a full-time career. We researched the nonprofit sector, talked to numerous organizations, and started to assemble like-minded journalists from a variety of disciplines (photography, film, writing, editing, designing), as well as marketing specialists.

Our goal has been to build a team that produces award-winning stories about nonprofits and then uses (markets) them in a way that can make a difference. Sometimes that is through designing websites and blogs around the content and sometimes it is crafting unique marketing projects utilizing our narrative-based material. Our fundamental principle is that, for people to act they must truly believe, and that comes from showing/telling them in compelling ways what it is exactly that our clients are doing to make this world a better place.

Starting a business in the middle of the greatest recession since the great depression may seem like a crazy move, and maybe we are a bit crazy, but it also presents a lot of opportunities. Nonprofits need us more than ever to tell their stories, and we have been able to attract people with not only great talent, but also great souls. We’ve grown (slowly) without taking loans or reaching too deeply into our personal finances, in part by appealing to nonprofits that we’d worked with when we were on staff at daily newspapers. Until now we’ve existed almost entirely by word of mouth, but we are currently in the early stages of a larger marketing campaign. So, we are growing at a comfortable pace,getting calls on a national level daily,but are ready for a larger role as organizations realize the potential we can tap into through our compelling work.

A Wéyo image of George Washington University students who set up clinic care in an unserviced Rwandan village.

A Wéyo image of George Washington University students who set up clinic care in an unserviced Rwandan village.

We decided on a model for the business that brings together different disciplines in large part after looking at thousands of nonrprofit websites — we realized 90% or more have a hard time telling people what they actually do with the donations they receive. The images on these sites are often of smiling kids, if there are images at all, and the videos and words leave people more confused. Our group understands the importance of showing and telling the story. It has been an amazing experience working with all these talented individuals, whose hearts are as big as their ideas. It’s not the hustle and bustle of the newsroom, much of what we do is in the virtual office online, but when those kind of talented people collaborate for a great cause, there is an excitement and creative buzz that is unmatched.

There are two main concerns working in this sector. First, these organizations have generally relied on donated content. And now everybody with a digital camera considers themselves a photographer, so and there is a ton of really awful, but free, imagery available. Most of the nonprofits we’ve worked with realize the power of strong documentary photography, but can’t come to grips with paying for it — even though these same groups will pay a decent amount of money to an PR agency or consulting group to utilize the donated images. There is only so much they can do with bad photography and most of these agencies really have no concept in how to use strong documentary material.

Second, you really aren’t your own boss. I don’t think any of us imagined at the start how long it would take to get a project started. In the newspaper business, you get an assignment, an hour later you’re shooting it, a few hours later you’re editing it, and a few hours after that it is in print and sitting on your doorstep. Not so in this new world. We have proposal meetings, then contract reviews, then board approvals, lawyer approvals … then perhaps you get the chance to work. Wéyo has proposals out that are over a year old and still in contract review, awaiting board approval. So, you have to have a lot of patience and take solace in the knowledge that what you are doing has the potential to change many lives for the better.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: Have you been frustrated working with NGOs? Have you found any that have a more sophisticated understanding of visual storytellling?

Click here for a list of all other “After Staff” posts.

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