In House Photography & Editing: How a little DIY can save your nonprofit BIG dollars

I love photography; it’s a relaxing, imperfect hobby my boyfriend sparked my interest in years ago. Together, we visit new locales and explore our hometown, all for the sake of a great photo. We have so much fun, and the best part is this hobby saves my nonprofit thousands of dollars each year.  

At a bare minimum, nonprofits should have quality photos of their annual event(s), client photos for marketing collateral (professional and in house), and all of the necessary photography for an annual report. If your organization does mail campaigns, e-blasts, newsletters, or pushes program enrollment, it is important that you have photos that compel your audience to click, enroll, or give.

Photos are great, but at what cost?

The average event photographer charges $150/hr. with a 2-3 hour minimum charge, and usually a travel fee for anything beyond a 15 mile radius. With the average nonprofit event lasting approximately 3 hours, that’s about $500 per event. Image preparation fees end up costing anywhere from $25-90/hr. Many professional photographers only license their photos for private use, so if you plan on using them for mass mailings, website production, etc. you’ll have to get their permission, and even with their blessing, many photographers watermark their images. While I respect their work, watermarks can detract from the main focus of the image, causing audiences to look at the signature in the bottom corner rather than the eyes of the puppy you’re fundraising for. The alternative is to buy the rights to the photo from the photographer, but this is very costly. Add in the multiple events and annual report, and all of a sudden photography costs begin to exhaust even the most robust marketing budgets.

So bring it in house.

Photography is one of the most common hobbies in the United States. More than 13.8 million DSLR cameras were sold in 2013, which means that Americans aren’t afraid to drop $700 on a camera (even if your nonprofit budget is). The easiest thing to do is see if any existing staff or significant others have photography skills. If not, look for photography enthusiast groups and see if any of them will adopt your organization. This way, you’ll have several volunteers and won’t be at the whim of an individual’s schedule. Enthusiasts also manage their own post processing and related software, so there isn't a software cost.

Trust your own Skills.

There are thousands of tutorials online about basic photography principles and post-processing, and some really thorough courses, like those through If you need some humor as you learn, there’s always You suck at Photoshop.  Organizations like techsoup can get you Photoshop and Lightroom for next to nothing as a nonprofit.  Photography and photoshop skills look great on a resume, and some nonprofits can even pull from professional development budgets to help.

Always Be Ready.

I always have my camera on me; in this technology-driven era where photos are posted before the event ends, I need to be able to snap impromptu check presentations, a quick smile from a board member, and even when two staff members both wear polka dots on the same day. Photos are what make your nonprofit human. The more photos you use in your storytelling, the more of a connection you’ll draw with your audience. It helps if they’re decently composed, well thought-out, and effectively post processed. This will give your nonprofit more to post on social media, on the blog, and boost engagement with clients. The more visual you can make your materials the better.

Know You Can’t Do It All.

I know that I can’t go to every client site visit, take photos at the events I’m planning and executing, and that’s why I’ve taken the time to train my staff and I’m not shy about asking my boyfriend for help. Know where you can turn to for help, advice, or a good ol’ backup.

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