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What to do when a charity wants my images

Last week I photographed the activities of large charity organization; things went swimmingly, pictures were fine, looks like I’ll be doing some more work with the foundation. Trouble is, they’ve just asked to use some pictures for “our own publicity.”

I know the way this normally goes, and that the photographer, just as anyone else doing work for the foundation, needs to get paid. Non-profit doesn’t mean no money, etc. Bottom line, they’ll pay for some pictures or they won’t get them. Problem is, in the past, when I’ve tried to talk about this delicate topic with nonprofits, the entire conversation exploded and I was cut off from taking any more pictures. I learned from one such experience not to show the pictures to the organization until the photography is done and the pictures are published. Didn’t show any this time, and of course, the question came up again.

What’s the best way to talk about image licensing and payment with the charity without things turning ugly? I’ll be talking with the local outpost’s media relations person (again, this is a huge foundation with 50+ employees just in the local branch). Add to the difficulty of this, the organization’s a Chinese one, so the organization’s interpretations of copyright, licensing, picture buying, usage, etc., may be much different from what I know.

When the subject comes up, I think that immediately going into “What’s your budget?” could backfire. A slightly better tack, I think, would be to say “Sure, give me the phone number of the organization’s photo buyer…” But that doesn’t give me much room for softening up the idea that photos aren’t free and then bada bing bada boom, suddenly I’m no longer welcome to follow along as the charity does its good work.

Anybody with experience in these sorts of delicate conversations have some tips?

by M. Scott Brauer at 2007-12-02 13:54:29 UTC (ed. Mar 12 2008 ) Nanjing , China | Bookmark | | Report spam→

I’m not an expert or anything, but you are entitled to compensation. If they explode when you ask them for money, it’s their problem, not yours. If they get angry about paying you than let them go. Best not to work for an organisation that expects everything to be free. Same goes for copyright. I know from experience that Amnesty has a budget for photo’s and pays photog for pro content, so I guess that this big NGO ha a budget too.
So I guess that you just have to be honest and straightforward when it comes to the money question. Tell them in a polite way that they have to pay you, if they don’t want to then don’t give them your images, because the next thime they will expect them to be for free.

by [former member] | 02 Dec 2007 14:12 | Rotterdam, Netherlands | | Report spam→
Rutgher, exactly right. What I’m interested in with this discussion is seeing strategies for “tell[ing] them politely that they have to pay.”

by M. Scott Brauer | 02 Dec 2007 14:12 | Nanjing, China | | Report spam→
I used to work for an ad agency that did alot of work with a non-profit. We gave them a discount, which made our services available for them. Although I know you need to get paid, non-profits many times do not have budgets for such things. If you demonstrate that you understand that by cutting your prices, even a bit, that will help. You don’t have to tell them how much you are cutting prices, “My standard rate for non-profits is…”

I know some people are going to rail against this, but that’s what we did very successfully (our rate cut was tiny, but they appreciated that we were trying).

by Brian C Frank | 02 Dec 2007 14:12 | Des Moines, ia, United States | | Report spam→
Yeah I guess that would work, although that could perhaps raise the problem of them always expection to get a price cut because they are a non-profit. Obviously when you are talking about a small charity organisation you can give them a price cut because they are small and are on a thight budget, but the bigger NGO’s have deep pockets and have money allocated for this sort of thing
I think that you have to tell them that you invest your time and equipement in them and should be compensated for that, because you could also invest that time on shooting for a profit-organisation and earn money(assuming that you are a pro photoq). If they don’t want to do that, than they should ask Joe Sixpack with his P&S for pictures.

by [former member] | 02 Dec 2007 15:12 | Rotterdam, Netherlands | | Report spam→
Brian is generally right. Giving a charity a discount is indeed normal practice. Pricing on an ability to pay is a frequent strategy.

The most important thing is for you to act professionally starting by saying that you are willing to give them a discount. If they balk remind them that other people supplying them service are paid (including staff members who go out in the field to shoot photographs for the organization). Just hold your gorund and wait for them to react. If they go nuts, then decide whether the value of access to their events is worth a few photos. If not then then hold your ground.

by [former member] | 03 Dec 2007 02:12 | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→
if anyone has any more suggestions about how to raise this subject with non-profits, it would be appreciated. have had
similar experiences.

by julia s. ferdinand | 03 Dec 2007 04:12 | siem reap, Cambodia | | Report spam→
A lot would depend on what co-operation with a charity includes. We routinely freeload with charities in the field and then sell our work for profit afterwards. Only rarely are we asked what our budgets for transportation, accommodation, comms and sustenance are. In some parts of the world working with a charity can save us hundreds of dollars per day in expenses. Not all of us insist on paying for rides on relief flights, regardless of the depth of our pockets. And yet some charities have the gall to ask for a free favour in return. Shameless, isn’t it..

by Morten Hvaal | 03 Dec 2007 04:12 | Colombo, Sri Lanka | | Report spam→
“What I’m interested in with this discussion is seeing strategies for “tell[ing] them politely that they have to pay.””

Why not just be straightforward and honest as to what you believe is fair and sustainable. My experience is that major NGOs are far less inclined to be exploitative than major commercial publishers.

“Giving a charity a discount is indeed normal practice”

A discount from what? This implies that we all have a standard rate whether we’re working for the NY Times, Time, Stern, Libération, or the UN. We don’t.

“Pricing on an ability to pay is a frequent strategy”

This is a nice idea but doesn’t reflect reality. We invoice according to willingness rather than ability to pay. This is the reason why there’s now no real gap between the rates offered by the larger NGOs and the major commercial publications who need to please their ever more rapacious shareholders. Editorial rates haven’t moved on for something like fifteen years whereas the larger charities have slowly but steadily increased their rates to reflect rising costs.

Morten’s point is an important one, without the support and safety net offered to journalists by charities in the field then a lot of work we’re very familiar with simply couldn’t have been made. If you begin with a suspicious attitude towards a charity then the potential for a mutually beneficial relationship is already diminished. There’s nothing to lose by being entirely open.

by Andrew Moore | 03 Dec 2007 05:12 | Hong Kong, Afghanistan | | Report spam→
i’m sure if scott had asked the question ‘how can i screw this charity for all it’s worth AND get paid big bucks for my pictures.’ the conscience of society comment would be appropriate..

by julia s. ferdinand | 03 Dec 2007 05:12 | siem reap, Cambodia | | Report spam→
Care to highlight the “conscience of society” comment? I can’t find it.

by Andrew Moore | 03 Dec 2007 05:12 | Hong Kong, Afghanistan | | Report spam→

Just to go back to basics, what’s it cost you per day to operate as a photographic business? Add up all your annual expenses, including insurance, benefits, pension, depreciated camera equipment, travel expenses, taxes etc plus, what you think is a reasonable annual salary and then divide that by the number of days you work. This is your daily cost of doing business (CODB). In other words, anything less than this amount and it’s costing you to do the work, anything more, and it’s profit into your business. This should be your starting point in terms of knowing what to charge to maintain a viable business. On top of this, you should be looking to add some sort of usage fees depending on what the usage is.

Now that that’s out of the way, my thoughts on your initial question is, I’d take the approach that they are expecting to pay and would be surprised if they weren’t, rather than assume they are not willing to pay and feeling uncomfortable about asking. If you have a reputation for giving work away, everyone will be surprised (including you) when you finally start asking to get paid. If (inset big name, highly successful photojournalist here) showed up on site and took pictures, do you think the same organization would assume they’ll get free pics? It sounds to me like you started off shooting for free and they have been so grateful, they keep calling and now you want to change the rules which has thrown them off. If I’m wrong, let me know but, if I’m right, consider it a lesson learned and in the future, look more towards the “I offer a discount for NGO’s” model described by others here" which will establish up front that you are worth something and expect to get paid.

On the other hand, Morten makes a good point about access being of value to the shooter that they can leverage in other ways. So, it depends entirely on the situation. If they’re asking you to shoot and using the images to raise money and awareness, everyone else is getting paid for the value they bring to the equation, you should too and that pay should be based on what it costs you per day to sustain the business. If you’re getting something else out of it that helps you propel your business in other ways (unique access, saleable pictures to another market etc.) then, building and maintaining a relationship with the charity in question might be good business too.

by Dan Bannister | 03 Dec 2007 11:12 | Calgary, Canada | | Report spam→
Thanks for the responses so far. All valuable to the discussion.

Dan, to clarify, I was never at any point shooting for the organization. I’m working on my own thing, they’re doing their work, and I wanted to photograph some of their activities as they line up with my project. When I called them up again to see what they’re up to, they asked “Hey, could we use some of your pictures for our own publicity” at which point I responded that we could talk about the possibilities of that. In a meeting today figuring out what more of the organization’s activities I can and want to shoot, the topic didn’t come up, so I didn’t bring it up. The relationship between me and the organization for any picture usage will be that of stock owner and stock buyer, rather than photographer and assigning client.

Again, thanks to all for the responses here and by email.

by M. Scott Brauer | 03 Dec 2007 12:12 | Nanjing, China | | Report spam→
and then bada bing bada boom, suddenly I’m no longer welcome to follow along as the charity does its good work.

So how important is that access to you? You may have to consider an exchange of your pictures for that privilege. Most things in life, I’m sure you’ll find, are best handled as a two-way street. The people here who think otherwise (that they’re “entitled” to payment no matter what the circumstances) have no right to complain when the last of their for-profit clients initiate work-for-hire contracts. Greed goes both ways.

by EF | 03 Dec 2007 19:12 | Singapore, Singapore | | Report spam→

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M. Scott Brauer, Photographer M. Scott Brauer
Boston, Massachusetts , United States ( BOS )
Brian C Frank, Photographer Brian C Frank
Des Moines, Iowa , United States
julia s. ferdinand, photographer julia s. ferdinand
Chiang Mai , Thailand ( CNX )
Morten Hvaal, Photographer Morten Hvaal
Oslo , Norway ( OSL )
Andrew Moore, Andrew Moore
Hong Kong , Afghanistan
Dan Bannister, Photographer Dan Bannister
Calgary , Canada
Singapore , Singapore


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