To grow our photography businesses, we make images that serve specific, narrow functions. For example, our wedding photography needs to attract and satisfy a specific demographic with a certain look in order to allow us to charge a particular price and create a consistent brand. Our commercial photography needs to assist clients in generating specific feedback from their customers that are in line with business goals. Even though my photography offered me creative expression, it was being undermined by a mechanistic approach that treated photography as a utility. I realized my photography needed to participate in something. My photography lacked a community and I needed to have an outlet where my photography could give and serve.
I thought this personal crisis was more widely shared among photographers, so I was a little surprised to find out that so few professional photographers have volunteered their time to serve their local chapter of the Boys and Girls Club. I cannot speak broadly about philanthropic photography, but my goal here is to highlight why the Boys and Girls Club is one of the best organizations for your consideration.
With over 4,100 club affiliations spread across America, the Boys and Girls Club is likely the most conveniently located nonprofit organization that you could serve. I called my county-level organization for the first time, two years ago, and was met with gratitude and opportunities to photograph almost immediately. When I said I wanted to offer service on a continuing basis, they were justifiably skeptical. Pro photographers are known to serve local nonprofits infrequently and only when they need to create an inflated tax writeoff.
By offering my photography at the county level, I was able to work with the administration team and became involved with multiple Clubs. That is a great strategy. If you volunteer exclusively at an individual Club, they will appreciate your service and your images will be put to good use, but there may not be enough opportunities to sustain your service for multiple occasions.
Most people think that the Boys and Girls Club is just afterschool care: a place where children go to hang out or do homework until for their parents finish their long hours working.
Yes, there is homework, and academic mentoring available, but you'll be pleasantly surprised to see that the Boys and Girls Club is filled with broad opportunities. This will give your photographs variety and you'll see yourself as photographing the life of the Club rather than repetitive stock moments.
In fact, many Clubs offer genuine outlets for play: like summer camp and networked computer gaming. And in our case, we've created a strong relationship the the Carolina Hurricanes hockey team, where professional athletes frequently mentor and play with our kids.
"The Club" or "teen centers" are Clubs that cater specifically to teenagers. I teach photography at my local teen center, and if teaching photography is your passion, many teen centers will welcome you with open arms.
Jay, for example, is one of my photography students. He doesn't own a camera, but with a little networking, we got him a media pass to photograph alongside professional photographers at a Duke University Football game.
The Boys and Girls Club has an internal, nationwide photography competition for it's Club members, sponsored by Sony. And this year, Jay entered and won 1st place in two categories at our local level. We're hoping he'll win again at the regional and national level.
Some teenagers like to be expressive and playful in front of the camera, so if you're interested in practicing your commercial photography techniques with teens you're mentoring, some of them will be happy to model for you. This is also valuable if you become involved in teaching photography because your teenage photography students will frequently want to photograph other teens.
Since the Boys and Girls Club is a nonprofit, they fundraise and need donations. But that means they need to schedule events for donors and create an atmosphere of celebration for successful contributions. This creates opportunities to provide event coverage photography.
Internal to the Club organization is a structure created to allow youth to overcome a classic leadership phobia at these events: public speaking.
I hope these experiences and photographs I've shared have encouraged you to find a nonprofit organization worth serving. The Boys and Girls Club, in particular, is both locally available and historically underserved by the photographic community. If you decide to serve a local nonprofit on a continuing basis, the life of the organization will unfold in front of your lens. You'll experience a satisfaction that will sustain you through the routine affairs of operating your photography business.