Everyone has a story, and every photographer wants to tell stories. But it’s not that simple. Some stories are difficult, but they still deserve to be told. How do you photograph mental illness, autism, cancer?
With compassion, respect, kindness, dedication…and patience.
Both of my grandmothers had breast cancer, so it was natural for me to get involved with Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and even more so after I spoke to breast cancer survivors about Boudoir Photography. After volunteering at the Susan G. Komen Gala, I was inspired to organize a fundraiser. Even though I had volunteered for other charities, I had never organized anything this extensive! Regardless, I decided to jump right in, to the deep end!
So how did we organize and host a successful fundraiser?
With lots of generosity! We were fortunate to have many great companies involved who wanted to collaborate to make a difference. We held the event at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills, and they donated a room for boudoir shoots and also their Ballroom. The Ballroom was graciously transformed by Barker Designs into a “pink lounge” for the cocktail party on Friday night. Pictage generously donated print products for advertising, event signage, canvases for the auction, and a print package for each client who signed up for a shoot on Saturday. Rockstar donated twenty four cases of pink drinks. Guests made a donation in exchange for a Fujifilm instax image taken with our “pink ribbon” girl; H&H designed the step-and-repeat. We had great music by Steelyjam and DJ Timbo. Models wore clothes provided by Loehmann’s for the fashion show, and hair and makeup artists donated their time for the two day event. It takes the generosity and coordination of many companies to create an unforgettable fundraiser!
Before becoming affiliated with a charity, it’s important to ask yourself why you want to be involved. Many organizations may be reluctant to work with you if they feel you are not in it for the right reasons. Since 100 percent of the proceeds from our fundraiser went directly to the charity, Susan G. Komen signed a third party contract with my studio, which allowed us full use of their name. This was truly about raising funds for breast cancer research. It’s easy to share when you really care – people want to help when you are genuine about your intent.
There are many valid ways to contribute: money, time, energy and services. As photographers, we can give something special and unique. We are in a powerful position to help others not only creatively, but emotionally. I believe “success” isn’t just about how much money we raise, but rather the longterm impact we make in people’s lives by helping share their stories.
Susan G. Komen has asked if we would coordinate a fundraiser again this year! Umm, yes, but something new and different. My partner doesn’t know it yet, but we’ll be volunteering for BC2M as well – thanks for being my rockstar partner and always having my back! 🙂 October is a busy month, with both breast cancer and mental health awareness! There are so many organizations and charities that need help, and when you are helping others it’s always a win-win situation!
Things to consider before deciding to donate your photography services to a cause or charity:
- Choose something meaningful to you. Just as we’re passionate about what we do as photographers, when we believe in a cause, it shows!
- If you’re not sure how to make contact, talk to friends and clients. Research online or contact local chapters.
- Be prepared to volunteer initially, this is not just about money. If your heart is in the right place, you will be successful.
- Plan a fundraiser. There may be guidelines for using an organization’s name, but when planning an event there are rarely limitations on creativity…and yes this part is about donating a meaningful percentage of the funds!
- Secure sponsors who can help cover overhead expenses, so you don’t pay out-of-pocket. Also, you should enlist corporate collaborators in a common cause. It may be items to auction, door prizes, or sponsorships to cover specific event expenses like décor.
- Get others involved, but make sure you can count on those who commit to helping. Everyone wants to help until it comes down to it…and then sometimes they disappear! We learned this the hard way. It happens; stay calm and don’t forget to delegate.
- Have fun and don’t set unreasonable expectations. No matter how much money you raise, it’s more than you started with!
- While working with charities, I initially thought I was giving to others. Courage, perseverance, friendship and compassion are just a few things I’ve received. Honestly, I’m not sure who is on the receiving end of the gifts!
Several years ago, I chose to close my business of twelve years due to my child’s illness. One of the many silver linings was that I had a chance to shoot anything I wanted. How often do we stop to ask ourselves, “what specifically do I love shooting that makes me happy?” Nothing makes me happier than to see people being proud of who they are, being true to themselves, and accepting themselves. I always wanted to help others feel good, to break stigmas, and “do what makes me happy.” But I could never seem to find enough time, until I realized it’s not about finding time but rather making time. I opened my studio again three years ago, with a different focus – empowering others – giving my clients permission to be themselves.