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April 22nd, 2009

Advice for convincing NGOs to fund significant photo projects

Posted by liveBooks

Valenda Campbell, Senior Photo Editor for CARE, worked with renowned documentary photographer Phil Borges to create Women Empowered, an exhibition and book that highlight the importance of empowering women in indigenous communities — something Phil has long advocated and CARE has increasingly focused on. In this post Valenda explains how they convinced CARE to take on such a large project and how it helped the organization reach brand new audiences. Check out our earlier discussions about creating clear goals that help photographers and NGOs create the most useful images possible.
Rufo, 7, spends her day collecting water and firewood, hearding goats, and helping her mother cook. Her mother can afford education for only one of her seven children, so every morning Rufo accompanies her sister Loco to the school, says good-bye, and then returns home to her daily chores.

Rufo, 7. Her mother can afford education for only one of her seven children, so every morning Rufo accompanies her sister Loco to the school, says good-bye, and then returns home to her daily chores. ©Phil Borges, courtesy CARE

Miki Johnson: Tell me about how the Women Empowered book and exhibition was conceived. Was that a new thing for CARE to do a whole project around a photo project?

Valenda Campbell: It was definitely a learning experience for me. I had put together some exhibits before but this was my first time working on a book. Having published many books before, Phil came into it knowing what he wanted to produce. I let Phil know right up front that I’d never worked a book, but I was looking forward to learning a lot from him and that I’d do my best to keep up. CARE hadn’t done anything like this since I had been here. We had published A Gift from America back in 1996 about CARE’s 50th anniversary, but that mostly involved pulling materials from the archives.

At one point photographer Fred Housel was shooting quite a bit for CARE and some larger exhibit projects came from that partnership. So between that and the Connections photo exhibit, which I led in 2004, CARE had some limited experience with large exhibits. But since I had been with CARE we just hadn’t had the right opportunity or any specific clarity to justify a book and traveling exhibition.

When things started falling into place with Phil, we saw a lot of potential for the awareness it could raise around issues of women’s empowerment and CARE’s poverty-fighting work. But it was a bit of a hard sell because I had a pretty ambitious list of what we wanted to accomplish and what it was going to cost –- not to mention a lot of people would have to spend significant time helping us pull it together. Taking on a project like this is an organizational commitment that impacts everyone from the photo library, to finance, to the country office staff in the field.

It was also a hard sell because people don’t always appreciate the influence of social documentary photography. Everyone enjoys the creative products of projects like this, but they may not quite appreciate the impact, the number of supporters behind it, and the variety of networks that are created and plugged into it. I explained how Phil’s book and exhibition would reach a lot of people through new venues while also providing high-quality material for our regular venues.

Committing to this type of high-level project is a tough call because it’s not easy to illustrate how this channel, through a lot of dotted lines and connections, will get us to our target audiences. In the end, though, there was enough potential there to get started and see how it went. Then when the project started coming together, everyone thought it was great and were very excited.

MJ: What have been the lasting results from Phil’s Women Empowered project?

VC: The Women Empowered book and exhibition have allowed us to reach new audiences. There’s the audience of photography enthusiasts in general, the professional photography networks, photo collectors, and the arts community — it’s so widespread. Like the magazine you worked for [American Photo, which included Phil in its “Heroes of Photography” issue]. Everybody who is a photo enthusiast gets that magazine at one point or another. Also, coverage in Photo District News is a great avenue to reach out to the photojournalist and documentary side of photography, which helped us connect with resources and support. In these ways, Phil’s work has also made other photographers aware of what we’re doing and it helps us recruit a higher caliber of potential photographers to work with.

I may be biased, but I would say that Phil has been one of the most valuable communications relationships we’ve built in recent history. Everyone who has had his wonderful material available to them has been thrilled with the opportunities it inspires, the doors that it opens, and the conversations that it starts. Because Phil is a photographer who is pretty worldly and well-traveled, he has a lot of insight into examining indigenous cultures and telling those stories — he’s seen so much first hand. It’s also good to have a man’s perspective included in this women-focused communications platform that CARE has adopted. Ultimately it adds a lot of credibility to CARE that he’s so committed and passionate about helping tell the stories behind CARE’s work. It means a lot having somebody of his stature, experience, and talent make that kind of commitment to supporting our work and our mission.

One thing that’s interesting about this project is that we went into it with the specific understanding that this was not going to be a CARE project — his was going to be a Phil Borges project. It was going to have his look and it was going to be a message that he was bringing by telling these stories through the eyes of CARE’s work. We didn’t want it to be an overtly CARE piece and have people think we were trying to sell or solicit something. For instance, on I don’t think people are searching for books under CARE, they’re searching for Phil Borges. When the book stores are adding titles to their inventory or when we exhibited Women Empowered at the U.N., it has Phil’s name, his look, his brand, his stamp on it. Yet he’s telling CARE’s stories by sharing what he saw when he visited our projects. This way it’s a message about women’s empowerment, not a message about CARE. So even if somebody decides to throw their support behind behind another organization that empowers women in developing countries, whether it’s through CARE or not, it’s a win — because we were able to get someone engaged in those issues.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: How have you been able to convince NGOs to take on larger projects? What lasting benefits have you seen of relationships between photographers and NGOs?


  1. April 27th, 2009 at 12:50 am

    Links & Updates « Anirban Chatterjee

    […] a nice post regarding how to convince NGOS to fund significant photo projects. You can read it over here. I guess the ideas shared over here can be easily be adopted to convince any body. A nice […]

  2. May 12th, 2009 at 8:55 pm


    Здравствуйте. Не могу разобраться с разделом для темы. Кто сможет помочь?

  3. December 20th, 2009 at 4:27 pm


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