The Advantages of Working Pro-bono
[May 10, 2010]
If you thought that I was totally sold out on the idea of never doing pro-bono work, you are wrong.
After posting “Why we should not do pro-bono work,” and as the second part of this trilogy, today I’m going to promote pro-bono work, so I will highlight the advantages of doing so (Yes, there are pros!). Now, before I start writing these reasons down, I have to tell you that in the next and final part of this Trilogy, I will explain what I’ve have decided to do in respect to this Issue, and I’ll share some good ideas that I have learned as well.
I hope this series can contribute to you making up your mind about this dilemma. So, in the near future, whether you say yes or no to working pro-bono, you are going be able to understand better, what it takes, what it implies, and what the consequences of doing so are. Let’s get started then!
1. Pro-bono helps to build up portfolios.
This is probably the number one reason that I’ve heard from photographers, especially the ones starting out or trying to create a “name” for themselves in humanitarian photography. Just to give you an example, all the comments in favor of pro-bono work, from the first post of this trilogy, were all about building up a portfolio. How can you show your skills if you don’t have photos on the topic? That’s what is behind this, and I believe in this point, because it’s important to have a portfolio to speak for you (That’s why I’m building mine at the moment ;-))
At the same time, think of the “rights” of your photos. Most of the time in a paid assignment you also sell the rights for using those photos. Most of the time you are not allowed to use those shots that you loved for personal use because now they belong to this non-profit organization. But, if you shoot pro-bono, you have the option to make it clear (we’ll talk about this next post) that these shots can be used for personal use, or in your portfolio.
2. Pro-bono provides experience.
As you can take advantage of pro-bono work by building up a portfolio, you can also get a lot of experience by working for different non-profit organizations in different locations and/or circumstances. This will prepare you for once the paid assignments come. Experience is very important for getting jobs. It’s totally different to tell a client, “This is my first job… I will do my best”, compared to, “I understand… yeah, I’ve done that type of job in the past. Yes, I know how to deal with that”. Do you see the difference? Building up experience is a real asset!
If you go pro-bono, try to take as much experience as you can from each assignment. That will help you to be better prepared when similar situations arise in your paid job. Also, you can better understand the “inside” of NGOs and charities, you get better at knowing how to handle a contract, for example, and what to ask before taking the next assignment. Remember, being a successful photographer is not just about the talent and the skills, but learning how to run a business.
3. Pro-bono keeps you away from becoming a robot
We are still human beings that are “moved” by people’s needs. That compassionate feeling is what we see as an option for helping others. One of the questions in the Humanitarian 10.Q interviews is an assumption that every humanitarian photographer is not there because of the money. As we want to make a living in this field, we also want to do good things, we want to help out; we want to help to hear the unheard ones. David duChemin said in his 10.Q Interview that humanitarian photography on a broader scale “is creating images used to move the human heart to broader issues of justice and compassion.” If you have lost sight of this, you are becoming a robot. I think it is great to get involved in a cause. I’m not talking about an assignment, but to give up some of your time, your life, just to help others less fortunate than yourself. And, if you are a photographer, why not give what you know best?
There are many non-profits that don’t have, and probably never will have a way to hire you. Are we going to let them down?
Are we going to let the money decide if we can help or not?
I’d say: “If we dare to use the word “humanitarian” as a description of what we do or what we are, then we have to live up to it!”.
4. Pro-bono is a good place for Creativity
This goes along with points 1 and 2. I’ve read that professional photographers, really successful ones with great jobs, still practice pro-bono work. Do you want to know one of the reasons? (The main one in some cases?) It freed them up to do other types of shoots that are not allowed in the type of photography that allows them to make a living. These photographers, most of the time, have to shoot the same thing again and again. Why? Because they are good at it! Sometimes there’s no room for creativity, at least not in the personal and experimental way that they would wish. So how can they do that; by working pro-bono. They look for an assignment where they are free to experiment, they contact that person/group/cause and they go for it!
Somehow, this is another way of building up a portfolio or getting experience.
5. Pro-bono helps your marketing.
I wrote a while ago about cause marketing, because today, that is a reality for photographers. Long ago, companies learned that being associated with a good cause could also help them with their marketing strategies, providing them with more customers and better sales. According to Wikipedia, 89% of the population would choose a brand that’s associated with a good cause over the rest. Think about it!
If the word gets out that you and your photography are supporting X cause, and that it’s an important cause, you will attract new visitors to your site; you will get to places that you didn’t without that job. Social media is in the middle of all this. Many non-profits can help you find new customers once they start talking nice about you. Of course, your photography is still very important, but don’t overestimate what people or the classical “word or mouth” can do to your business. Good NGOs are always in partnership with others; they all like to be connected; so if one of them highlights your work, don’t be surprised if the other ones start to call you, and for a paid job!
There’s a lot more to be said, but I’m running out time… sorry.
Please, let us know what other advantages you see in working pro-bono, what you have seen in your experience.
Be ready for our last post on this topic, probably before the end of the week. I will share more links and my own impressions on this issue.