We as creative professionals, or just simply citizens of a broken world, have a ridiculous amount of opportunity to help others—specifically nonprofits. I think we often examine the worthiness of a cause or nonprofit by their neediness. We look at their budget, their expenses, the people running the show, and we make a judgement about whether or not they need us. Maybe we even go as far as looking into their financial reports from the past few years to make sure they are good stewards of the donations they’ve been given.

We as creative professionals, or just simply citizens of a broken world, have lots of opportunity to help others. Click To Tweet

Shifting your mindset about nonprofits

There are charity watchdog sites that will help us understand which charities are spending the least and doing the most. These algorithms have been around almost as long as the nonprofit sector itself has existed. Someone decided that in order for nonprofits to truly help people, they shouldn’t really spend that much money.

Before I go on, I need to give credit where credit is due: my whole perspective on nonprofits and giving was altered by watching Dan Pollotta’s Ted Talk – The way we think about charity is dead wrong. I suggest you take the 18 minutes and hear his opinion on this.

I worked for various nonprofits for more than 5 years. I photographed, I wrote, and I received a salary—a salary that I spent most of the time feeling guilty about. But then I watched Dan Pollotta’s talk and it all changed. I have a very particular set of skills that I acquired throughout my life and I brought them to the table for those nonprofits. My work was 100% unique, as was my perspective – there was no reason for me to feel like I shouldn’t get paid for those skills only because I was using them to help people.

Give what you have

Fast forward: I ventured out on my own to be a documentary family photographer about two years ago. Having spent so much time working with nonprofits, I knew that I wanted to continue to serve and give, even if I was running a “for-profit” company.

But I’m not Target. I don’t have billions of dollars coming in and a massive budget for giving. In fact, I have simply been happy to finish both years with a profit margin. What I do have is time, so time is what I give.

I don't have billions of dollars, but what I do have is time, so time is what I give. Click To Tweet

I have photographed for an incredible nonprofit, NomoGaia, for the past few years. It is a human rights research organization that my good friend, Kendyl, founded and I believe in what she’s doing down deep in my bones. Though I may not have unlimited funds right now, remember those particular skills? Still there. I went with her to Myanmar and then Belize and learned more than I can explain about the work she does. I make photos and write words to raise awareness on the [small] platform that I have.

Full disclosure because that is kind-of what this entire post is about: Kendyl doesn’t pay me for these photos, but she does pay for all my expenses on these trips. Flights, food, lodging, the works. We get to travel together and deepen our friendship, I get to see places I never would have explored without her, and I like to think she gets a to have more fun on a work trip than she would alone – don’t tell me if I’m wrong, Kendyl.

Create your own formula for giving

I don’t think there is a formula for giving, especially as a creative. The nonprofit sector is still growing and changing; there are different philosophies from one organization to the next about paying for work vs. getting as many donations as possible. I firmly believe that nonprofits should have the freedom to pay for good work. But their donors might not be there yet, and maybe expect 100% of their donation to go directly to programs, not marketing materials.

I can’t change people’s minds. I can’t convince donors or nonprofits themselves who want to hire me that I deserve to be paid. I can’t give them an exact ROI from the photos I would give them. So I created my own formula for giving.

I’m a smart woman, one who runs her own business and has her very own intuition. If an organization wants to hire me and I think I should be paid for those services, I tell them what I expect. It’s usually 25% less than I would charge a business. If they don’t want to pay, I always direct them to other photographers that may be interested in the project.

Giving back doesn't have to feel like giving in. Click To Tweet

In short, giving back doesn’t have to feel like giving in. I don’t think any creative professional should ever feel guilty about charging for their services, no matter how needy the cause. But I also don’t think we are hurting the industry by opening our hearts and being willing to give where and how we are led.

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Rachel Greiman is a documentary family photographer Denver, Colorado. She owns Green Chair Stories, a company committed to telling stories that show people how beautiful their real life is. She also writes and photographs food for Eater Denver and lives with a healthy understanding that cookies are a perfectly acceptable breakfast food, as long as you eat some salad later. She lives with her giant dog (an 80-pound bernedoodle named Bernadette) and her giant husband (a 6'6" man named Travis) in a small house in the city.