How to multiply the value of your donated dollars

by Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor on December 30, 2012

in This is Business

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If you’re only donating money to your chosen cause, neither you nor they are getting your money’s worth.

I’m a proponent of tendering 10-percent of your business income to local non-profits, assuming you’ve reached the point of profitability in your part time photography business. Even just a few dollars here and there make a difference in your community, and non-profits are purpose-built for multiplying the value of donated dollars.

But as a small business in need of more clients, just writing a check every month to your favored cause is a limited investment and will show limited return. Minor donors rarely get enough recognition for their contributions to make the giving worthwhile for their business.

Don’t think me a bloodthirsty robber baron – I don’t mean to suggest that charitable donations should only be valued at the new business they bring in. But as a small business owner, you can’t afford to hide your light under a basket, nor to let the left hand (your market) ignore what good the right hand (your business) is doing.

This was a big leap for me in understanding how the success of my business was good for my community: I cannot afford the time freedom or monetary generosity needed to make a difference in my community if I don’t build a successful business.

Sometimes that means taking a grip-and-grin photo of yourself handing over a check to the local animal shelter and sending it to your local newspapers and news blogs for publication. Sometimes that means blogging about the photo package you donated to the high school senior class auction.

There are myriad creative ways to multiply the value of your donations of time and money, for both the giver and the receiver.

Be A Crusader

The most effective path is to become a crusader for the cause.

Pick a local non-profit that serves a specific cause that you are really, truly passionate about. Children, animals, poverty, hunger, whatever it may be. Adopt this cause in full and become a champion for it in your community – for a month, for a quarter, for a year.

Let’s say you throw your support in for the local animal shelter. Here are some ways you can go beyond the checkbook to benefit both your chosen non-profit and your business:

  • Animal Photos – This is a no-brainer. Most shelters I’ve seen take snap shots of their animals with their cell phone cameras. When photographer Teresa Berg began doing pro bono pet portraits for the Dallas-Fort Worth Dachshund Rescue group, adoption rates doubled. I’ll say that again: doubled! You can help create a 100-percent increase in animals placed in good homes, saved from the euthanasia table or life in a cage. And that’s a story worth telling on your blog and to the community.
  • Staff Photos – If you look like a professional, folks perceive you’re a professional. Professional staff portraits can improve and solidify that image in the community, and the community responds best to the businesses or organizations that they Know, Like and Trust. Your portraits can improve all three of these metrics for the shelter.
  • Event Photos – Shelters often hold public adoptions at local events and businesses, free spay/neutering clinics, sponsor pet parades, host dog walks, and other events to grow awareness in the community. Your photos of these events make for a great record of the shelter’s work, and help tell the story of the shelter in the community. Your photos can also help the shelter attain grants from philanthropic foundations.
  • Press Releases – Working at a community newspaper for 13 years, it’s always stunned me how few organizations make use of press releases. The small weekly paper I work at has over 10,000 weekly readers in a community of just over 20,000 people. That’s the equivalent of 10,000 people paying to read what you have to say. It’s a powerful venue. You can use your photography for the animal shelter to help craft press releases and photo stories to submit to your local papers and blogs, and to share on Facebook. And don’t forget the grip-and-grin photo handing over a check – it’s good press for you and the shelter both. Whether you realize it or not, as a business owner, you are a leader and influencer in your community. Folks who see you doing good in the community will be inspired to walk the same path.
  • Photo StoriesPhotojournalism can powerfully tell a story in a way that is often lost in the written word. You could do a photo story on a specific dog, from the day he was brought in injured and mangy, through his recovery, and to the day he found a loving home. You could do a photo story on the love between an adopted animal and their new owners, photos that show how much joy an adopted animal has brought to a family’s home. These photos can be a powerful tool for the shelter, and a tour de force of your talents as a professional portrait artist. Local newspapers and blogs, even television news shows, love this kind of content.
  • Your Blog & Facebook – You can promote the shelter through your own venues as well. Regardless of how many Likes you have, or how many people visit your blog each week, you do have an audience. Sharing the photography work you’ve done with the shelter, and helping to promote adoptions and shelter events, you can really build a relationship with the non-profit and members of your community who also support the cause. You can even create a Facebook group for like-minded folks to work together to benefit the shelter and other animal-related entities.
  • Co-op Marketing – While promoting the shelter, the shelter can also promote you. Such as if you put together a special Pet Portrait package with a portion of proceeds benefiting the shelter. Or donating a portion of proceeds from a given month to the shelter (perhaps in concert with a pet-related holiday). Or offering a free mini-shoot to anyone who adopts an animal from the shelter. You grow your client base, and the shelter adds even more value to adopters.
  • Co-op Events – How about hosting Pet Portraits In The Park day with the shelter? They could set up on location with some of their featured pets and take donations, and you could offer free pet portraits to attendees. You and the shelter could cross-promote the event, and share it with your local newspapers and blogs to build buzz leading up to the event. Add in ‘door prizes’ and a drawing to win a full pet portrait package, and you have a great co-op event. Don’t forget to share photos from the event with your local news venues.
  • Contests and Drawings – Speaking of drawings, you can host a contest for folks to win a pet portrait package via your web site and Facebook. You can promote that anyone who likes both your Facebook page and the shelter’s page will be entered in the drawing. Or folks who sign up to receive both of your e-newsletters. Or folks who make a donation of any size during a certain month to the shelter. Or for every client who purchases a pet portrait gift certificate during a given month. Or you can have your Facebook fans tag you with funny photos of their pets to enter the contest. Keep in mind, you can award a grand prize, then a ‘consolation’ prize to everyone who enters, such as a free mini pet portrait shoot, or an exclusive invitation to a private pet portrait party – again, getting face time with good potential clients and growing your client base.

I’ve written before about how co-op marketing can instantly build your client list and partnering with non-profits, as I’ve found they are the quickest ways to build a name for yourself in an influential market.

There are many ways you can work with your chosen non-profit to both grow your client base and benefit the community. As always, the best way to start is to start right now.

Next Steps

  • Brainstorm session: Whip out your pen and paper and list the problems in your community that you most dearly want to see addressed – from playgrounds to classrooms to women’s shelters to animal shelters and everything between. What pain in your community do you most want to help alleviate? Narrow your list down to 1-4 causes that you are truly passionate about. Now, write down the whys – why are these causes important to you, personally? File this away in your Brainstorms folder.
  • Choose one of your favored causes, and seek out a local non-profit that serves that need. Study their web site and marketing materials, then brainstorm a list of ways you can help them through promotion and fundraising. Flesh out these ideas, look at your calendar, and consider when and how you can help make these ideas happen. Non-profits have plenty to do before you walk in the door with great ideas and no manpower to make them happen. Don’t over-extend yourself – refine your ideas into specific projects that you have the time and inclination to take the lead on.
  • Contact your chosen non-profit and ask if you can attend a board meeting or visit with a volunteer or public relations coordinator. Bring your ideas and an open mind, and talk through what you have to offer to the non-profit. Then ask for their feedback, and what they feel you could best do to help them. Don’t make any immediate commitments – take the time to consider new ideas and feedback, then determine what projects excite you the most. This is where you want to focus.
  • Do not, under any circumstance, work with a non-profit whose people give you bad vibes. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire – you have to believe in whatever group you choose to work with. If you don’t like the people, your passion will disappear, and you’ll burn out fast. It’s okay to walk away from any group or project you don’t feel good about – in fact, it’s far better to walk away then lose steam and do half-ass work. Be discerning. When you get with right people, your excitement and commitment will only multiply.
  • When you make the commitment to a project, to become a crusader for a cause, you need to be all-in. You can’t allow yourself to become distracted halfway through and let the fruit die on the vine. Whatever project you take on, stay enthusiastic about it and see it through to the end. Beyond being healthy for your character, you’ll only build momentum with consistent progress – just as true for a crusader as for an artist or a business owner.
  • My writing at exists to serve your needs as an amateur photographer making the transition to paid professional. I appreciate and welcome your readership, and invite you to subscribe to my e-mail newsletter at the top of any page of this site.
  • If anything in this post has spoken to and inspired you, please comment below, drop me an e-mail, or call or text me at 830-688-1564 and let me know. I’d love to hear how you use these ideas to better your part time photography business!

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Chuck Foley January 2, 2013 at 10:02 am

You made some really good helpful points in this article. I used to write press releases for the different organizations I worked with over the years. The local press staff are always welcoming and helpful. There’s no need to be shy. This is one of the first articles I read on the PTF and I look forward to reading more. Thanks for sharing!


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor January 6, 2013 at 2:54 pm

Thank you for your comment and readership Chuck! Press folks I’ve found more often than not are warm and welcoming – often, depending on the beat, we have to beat the bushes for good news ideas to share with readers. So when folks are proactive in reaching out to us, we work doubly hard to help them get their message out to people.


Melanie January 5, 2013 at 9:17 pm

Great article! I recently teamed up with a local rescue and there are some great ideas here to help me promote both the rescue and myself. Thanks!


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor January 6, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Thank you for your comment Melanie! I greatly enjoyed visiting your web site and admiring your portfolio. You make beautiful art! You obviously have a great affection for animals, people, and photography.

Good on ya for working with your local rescue! Working with non-profits can create a wonderful synergy that is worth far more than the sum of its parts, for you and for the non-profit.

Let me know what ideas or projects you implement, and how they turn out for you! Thank you for your readership!


Pat Harris April 17, 2013 at 5:10 pm

I’m glad that I accidentally happened upon your article at the right time. Our local photography meetup has suggested shelter outreach, and while I was interested, I didn’t understand just how powerful it is in increasing the adoption rates. I’d never heard stats before and it’s staggering. I’m going to volunteer, but I wish every shelter had access to good photography. Thanks again for your insight. I love your site in general.


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor May 28, 2013 at 8:59 pm

Thank you for your comment and kind words, Pat! What a wonderful portfolio and art you have! I greatly enjoyed visiting your site tonight.

How awesome that you’re going to reach out to your local shelter! Good on ya!

There are so many ways for photographers to help in their communities – any kind of non-profit can benefit from great photography. Especially in the highly-visual society we live in now – consider the rise of the meme and Facebook – great photography stands out, captures attention, gets shared, and makes a big impression. Often, non-profits have the least resources with which to create an image in the community that inspires donations and volunteers.

Please do keep me posted on this project and how it turns out for you! Thank you for your readership!


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