But We’re a Non-Profit!

At one time or another we’ve all received this call. Usually the conversation goes something like this:

Client: “We have a project coming up, we saw your website and absolutely love your work. We’re looking for a photographer we can build a relationship with.”

Me: “That’s great, thanks for the compliment, tell me a bit about your project.”

The client gives you the details, closing with, “And as you probably know, we’re a non-profit, so please give us your non-profit rate.”

It’s at about this time I want to blurt out in response to their, “but we’re a non-profit”: “WELL, I’M NOT!”

But I stay calm, not wanting to look like a jerk, and knowing that when people move from company to company, they take their address books with them and the next time this person calls, she may really have a budget.  Here’s how I handle these calls and what I say next.  (By the way, I want to give credit where credit is due, but I’m not sure where I picked this up, but it may have been my photo pal Joe Pobereskin or Chicago photographer Marc Hauser.)  BJD:  Joe has indicated in the comments that it is Marc’s method.

If it’s a charity that I care about, here’s my offer: “I’m glad you called me Mr. Client because I do indeed have a special fee set up for charities such as yours. I work for half price! And here’s how it works.  We’ll work together for your next six photo projects. The first time, I’m going to charge you 100-percent of my customary fee. The next time, 80-percent. The next time 60-percent. Next 40-percent. The next, 20-percent.  And the sixth time, I’m not going to bill you a penny.”

I continue, “If you do the math, that works out to half price. And it works out great for both of us, you get quality photography at a below-market rate, and I have an opportunity to create great images for each of us.  How does that sound?”

You’ve offered the client what he wants and you’re very much looking like a good guy.  But not a fool.  If he takes you up on the offer, your fee is front-loaded… in other words, you’re smart enough to know that if you worked for half price right out of the box, he may use you once, then move on to another photographer. If I’m going to give up part of my fee, I’d at least like to build some sort of a relationship with both the charity and its patrons.

Its patrons? Yes, that’s where the potential lies in the deal. I want to be seen more than once at the charity’s events. Charity fund-raisers almost always yield more clients if you work the room; after all, everyone present at a charity function is a potential client. Introduce yourself, be personable, look professional, and hand out business cards. And the more often they see you at their functions, the more they get to know you, the more trust you’re building.

I’ve made this presentation, and so far, two charities have taken me up on the offer.  The jobs were simple, and actually the benefits were very much worth it. I’ve managed to get new clients (one major!) and that’s resulted in more billings for the studio. Think of the “discount” as part of your advertising budget.  Anyway, it’s something to consider next time someone calls from a charity fishing for a photographer.  Don’t get upset, the person on the other end of the line is just doing his or her job. Instead, make lemonade out of the lemon they are offering!

What do you think? How do you handle these types of calls? Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

(Check back on Monday, I’ll be kicking off a simple contest for a free copy of my Web Marketing and SEO DVD.)

Photo by Photos8.com, licensed under a Creative Commons License.



about 13 years ago

I think the approach you gave in the article is intriguing. For now, if I am personally involved with an organization, (e.g. my sports car club, the local section of my professional engineering society, my high school graduating class), I just do some photographs or videos at events and post the results online. I don't take requests for doing full jobs to their specification, as that requires a contract and payment. What if a subsequent event occurs when you're booked, or what if the org turns out to be horrible to work with? Or what if the place doesn't want to work with you again, or has no more events coming for several years and demands some kind of refund. In my most recent go-round, the local symphony called about having me make a video series. I developed and submitted a plan and proposal. A few days later their rep responded that they were getting it "pro bono" but they would be "sure to call me when they needed video in the future." I think all of these requests have to be evaluated on a case by case basis. If the caller is just going through the phone book, I plan to treat them like any other requestor: first 10 minutes of consultation free, $120 per hour beyond that through my Paypal invoice. You'd be surprise how many have forked over the $$. If the request is for a very prominent event and the requestor is familiar with my work, and HAS BEEN MY CLIENT IN THE PAST, I am more inclined to be generous.

Holly Baumann

about 13 years ago

Good post and great idea. I've donated services entirely to organizations before cuz I am am softy for NPOs... And sometimes, they never even USE my work! Wasted time, wear and tear on my gear, etc. So, I'd additionally suggest focusing efforts on organizations that have marketing personnel and a clear plan for how they intend to use your images.

Dave Macdonald

about 13 years ago

Great post - I like both your method and Joe's. As a business consultant, I often get the same types of questions about free work and whether I'll do it. Joe's method applies a little more to me as I do more one-off work. Thanks for sharing Marc's and thanks to Joe for the link.


about 14 years ago

Most non-profits that contact me are expecting a photographer to do the shoot 100% as a donation. I even had one non-profit tell me that I not only did they want me to do the shoot for free, but I also had to pay the $45 dinner fundraiser fee since they expected me to want to eat! I politely declined the offer, as I do most of these...but when business is slow and if its a non-profit I actually do care about I will about once a year do such a shoot (but not pay for dinner too!)

Don Eddy

about 14 years ago

I like Joe's as well and see the benefit in both. I shot for two days for my daughter-in-law who founded a 501(c)3 to help children in a small village in Tanzania. The shots were of one of her son's church school. She was paying her own way to the village and wanted photos to show the kids over there what the kids in their sister school looked like. Other local events were added as well as some work on a website someone else put together. No money changed hands. Who's going to charge family? It was a start-up three years ago.

Blake J. Discher

about 14 years ago

@Marie: Yes, that could definitely happen. Shoots one thru five are "cheezy" as you say, and the sixth is the "big one." Not sure, how to avoid it, I don't think it will happen in my two cases, but my fingers are crossed nonetheless! @Joe: Thanks for pointing out it's Hauser's method. I just read yours, excellent.

Joseph Pobereskin

about 14 years ago

Let's give credit where credit's due: The discount plan is Hauser's. I have one too, you'll find it here... http://tinyurl.com/2d6aqmy

Marie Dolphin Studios

about 14 years ago

I think it is a wonderful idea ...although I got to thinking, what if they give you a real "cheezy" no nothing project just to get the first one or two out of the way because it is billed full price/80 and then save the "big" jobs for later? Do you specify a minimum ? or how can we avoid this? Thanks!! Otherwise great!!


about 14 years ago

i love it... it's like when a new client asks if i have new client discount prices... .-= Mary´s last blog ..Turning Things Upside Down =-.

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