Dear Hope, How do I Score Free Photography for my Charity Event?

Will you photograph our event in exchange for food?  
It'll be good for your portfolio.
~the Volunteer Recruiter

I received one of many requests I get annually for free photography coverage of ~insert event here~ and I gotta tell you, I'm not sure who is training the volunteer recruiters and corporate donor development officers out there these days, but y'all are completely missing the mark.  So, if you are here to score free photography for your charity event, I'm going to attempt to steer you in the right direction.  You're welcome!  (psst... If you're not an actual registered charity and you want free pictures for your private fundraiser, please ask someone you know personally who will appreciate the experience...)

Before I can even get to the dos and don'ts, though, I have to get this off my chest.  None of us that I know in the photography community does charity events to broaden our skills - the type of experience we get at events like auctions, galas and golf tournaments does not apply to the real work we do of, say, photographing sleeping babies in knitted thingies.  Furthermore, it does not expand our portfolio because unless we are event photographers, event images don't represent the style of work we typically do, and if they do, they aren't adding anything new - as a wedding photographer, I already have all the pictures of people making speeches I need, thanks.

And in 10+ years of shooting for my chosen charities, I have yet to develop more than a handful of long-term clients because frankly, photographing an event is far too impersonal to make proper connections - the photographers (whether paid or volunteer) are mostly running their asses off and often go as unnoticed as the wait staff and janitors no matter how personable and friendly we are.  (Also, I am confident most photographers would find it awkward to directly solicit for clientele at the event even with permission which is good because as a participant at the event I would be annoyed if I was handed a business card by every volunteer there...  But I digress.)  Here is what you came for:

How to Score Free Photography

1.) I believe there are angels amoung us.  Lots of photographers are nice people who do nice things because we are nice and want people to know we are nice.  Seriously.  I mean that.  Your average local photographer isn't a multi-million dollar corporation looking for tax breaks and business networking opportunities.  We are mostly small "cottage industries" deeply embedded in our communities and like anyone else, we want to give for completely altruistic reasons - we have a close personal tie to the cause or have had a personal experience that puts it close to our heart, we want to make a difference, we want to give back to our community, we want to feel good about doing something positive for others or for the planet or whatever.  When we choose to make a professional association with a particular organisation as part of our "branding" it is because we want our corporate identity to reflect our core values not to get the free (untargeted and therefore sometimes useless) advertising.  And unless we're talking about a meal prepared by Jamie Oliver or Gordon Ramsay "free food" is not a benefit but rather a reasonable expectation we all have after putting in several hours of work on site, as are free bottles of water and a charitable contribution receipt for the value of our work.  (PLEASE NOTE that you have to receive a tangible product such as a physical CD, prints, etc. with that value attached reflecting the price per CD or print.  View the guidelines on the CRA website here.)  If you actually want to sweeten the deal offer us event swag and fun stuff like getting backstage access to meet celebrities.

2.) Tell me what you want, what you really really want.  The bottom line is, the more information you provide about your expectations and the less you try and make it sound like you're doing us a favour, the easier it is for us to decide if the event suits us.  You definitely need to include information about the charity and the event when you make your initial contact - include links to the event, background on the charity itself, and have a short description of who benefits in your contact letter.  Photographers are busy people who may fit several clients in on a single day so expected type and hours of coverage (do you need 12 hours of roving coverage or just 2 hours of photobooth?) and deliverables (do you need on-site prints? will you require an online album? Are you hoping for live or real-time video feed?) should be included up front along with any timelines for deliverables that you may have.  Note to yourself that during peak wedding season (May - August) and the annual fall leaves family photos frenzy you will need to mention your expected turnaround on the images so the photographer can decide if their schedule will accommodate your request without turning their favourite bride into bridezilla when their photos are delayed.

3.) Want you to make me feel like I'm the only girl in the world.  Nothing feels worse than finding out you were just one of 500 random photographers contacted for a job.  We want to feel head-hunted and you need to make the contact as personal as possible.  None of us is immune to a little flattery and everyone loves 6 degrees of separation.  Tell us who pointed you to us or why you stopped when you stumbled across our website.  Tell us why you think we would be a good choice for your event.  Be sincere and not patronizing.  Check out our portfolio and see if our style or previous work is a good match for your event.  Read the bio or about me page and use that information to make a connection - some even have instructions on how to make a request for charitable coverage!  If you want to reel us in, make us feel unique and special about getting contacted or it all just feels like being cold-called by a telemarketer.

Thanks for stopping by to read this.  Hopefully you found these tips helpful.  In case your photographer of choice does not have specs on their website, here is a form letter you can use to build your own donor request.  Just copy and paste it then replace the italicized bits with your own real information:

Dear Actual Photographer's Name,

The Charitable Association's Name is a charity that does description of whatever your charity does to benefit someone or something.  We are holding a type of charity event in support of type of cause on date from start time to end time.  We found your website/got your name from name of source and upon reviewing your portfolio feel that your specific and unique aspect of the photographer's talent, experience, or personality would be an asset to our event.  We are looking for number of hours of coverage required to capture the participants doing this type of activity which we require delivered to us in format you want delivered by reasonable date you would like the images ready.  We provide our volunteers with description of swag as well as access to meals, snacks, and water for the duration of their shift.  We can also provide tax receipts for the full amount of your providing prints/disc or other tangible product and add whatever other cool benefits you have like tickets to a movie premiere or access to the green room to take selfies with the celebrity DJ.

Please feel free to learn more about our organisation and check out event details by visiting www.whatever your charity is goes and let us know at your earliest convenience if you are available to help us out.

Your name, 
Your title and contact info





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