Sunday, December 08, 2013

Are you filling holes in an organization or using holes to fill the organization?

Pastor Emanuel Yameogo is in front of the church he pastors in Koudougou, Burkina Faso, Africa.

Many photographers are enjoying giving of their time to travel the world for a NGO in exchange for access to subjects. You can get hooked on doing this for the wrong reasons. Getting one more country stamped on your passport can feel good to even those who are doing it for all the right reasons, but be sure this is not the motivation for you to see the world.

I just had someone post this on a forum that I contribute to and enjoy.  I posted this as a response and believe too many photographers with big hearts and giving to organizations are often doing more harm than good in the big picture for those organizations.

San Antonio Catholic Church in Tikul, Yucatan, Mexico
"NGO/NPO's have a budget for marketing. Do not let them tell you they have no budget."

Sadly this is not true in all cases. While there are many reasons they have no or inadequate budget for marketing there is one that many of us contribute.

Altruism is one of the biggest problems with these organizations. Many media professionals out of wanting to help actually have hurt many of these organizations over time.

A giving photographer isn't able to give to their charity $20,000, but chooses to give of their time of what would amount to a $20,000 gift. This is how many organizations are able to do more with less.

Let's say that for the next 20 years this photographer gives annually a week of their time doing projects from multimedia, still photography and maybe some writing to help with marketing materials for this organization.

Jacob Tarnagda [left] and Jay Shafto walk through the Jacob's courtyard. Jacob is a leader in the church in Soumagou, Burkina Faso, West Africa.
Sadly the photographer dies one year for whatever reason. Slowly this organization is loosing traction. Their marketing is not as good as it was. They cannot find a veteran photographer like the one they had before. Now they rely on college students and amateurs who give of their time.

Sometimes they just stop doing any photography. That was something someone gave to them but not something they needed in the minds of the NGO.

While the photographer was alive and giving the organization flourished, but once he/she was gone they started to wither. 

Street scene in Tikul, Yucatan, Mexico.
Please don't be that photographer.

Be altruistic and give of your time just like the photographer did all those years. However, this is how you can be different and help the organization.

Take the time to have conversations with the leadership. Sit them down and get them to understand the real costs and encourage them to start creating a marketing budget. Get them to put it into the budget that they vote on each year.

Your gifting of time can cover the costs while you are able, but by this being on the visible budget you will be helping the organization slowly create a budget. 

I would help them over time realistically put together a budget just like each of us who are independent have to do for our budgets. Maybe get them to slowly hire a few independent media specialists to help your projects be better. 

Night street scene in  Tikul, Yucatan, Mexico.
Once more thing besides creating a physical budget for the organization, help them to know how to use entry level communications people. Help them to understand the importance of strategic creatives and how they can mentor the newbies. 

Maybe you help them by training students and having them work with you on these projects for internship credit. Be sure if you do this, that you are communicating the importance of the seasoned pro. Let them know how this is saving them money in the long run. Show how new fresh perspectives of the students can also help them grow. Just be sure they understand the importance of strategic communications rather than just photos and videos being created to have something "visual."

This is the hanger used for the ministry story point in the bush village of Sabtenga, Burkina Faso, West Africa.
You need to help the organizations understand the difference between filling holes and using holes to fill the organization.

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