How To Help Others (While Helping Yourself) By Donating Photo Services To Charities & Nonprofits


© Luke Copping

This is one of my favorite topics: photographers doing good works by donating photography services to charities and other nonprofit organizations. In this column, I’ll look at how to make a living while making a difference. For starters, donating your photography to a good cause will help you develop business skills. It will also give you access to people and places for portfolio development and allow you to meet an amazing network of new friends. Organizations you can donate your photography to range from local to global and cover a variety of issues from healthcare and education to shelter animals. Sincere thanks to our contributors for their work: Luke Copping, Tim Courtney, Cathy Greenblat, and Isaac Howard (websites at end of column).

Shutterbug: What nonprofit or charity do you work with and how did you get involved with their cause?

Luke Copping: I work with the Friends of the City of Buffalo Animal Shelter. I create portraits of many of the rescue and foster dogs in their care to help aid in adoption campaigns and to place dogs in great new homes as well as help some of the longer-term residents who might be overlooked. I started working with the shelter through my fiancée, Erin, who has been volunteering at the shelter on and off for years. The oldest of our three dogs, Akasha, was a rescue from the city shelter and when I started to photograph our own dogs Erin suggested that I might be able to help out the shelter with their adoption program. Many of the photographs were taken by volunteers, and while there were some great action and candid shots of the dogs, there were no portraits that really captured their personalities and helped forge a connection between them and potential families. Erin connected me with some volunteers from the shelter and my first session had me working with two very young pit bull puppies who had been found abandoned in a dumpster and nursed back to health. Within days of the images going public, both dogs had found amazing new homes. Since then I have also contributed images to my friend and fellow photographer Douglas Sonders’s initiative, which works toward changing the unfair stigma surrounding pit bulls and ending breed specific discrimination.

© Luke Copping

Isaac Howard: I have worked with many different nonprofits: local, regional, and international. Most recently I have been working with Hope in Haiti (HIH) and Global Training Network (GTN). Both organizations are faith-based groups that support education.

Tim Courtney: Picture Me Happy is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) I founded in 2007 while living in Los Angeles. I took the concept of my professional career photographing celebrities for magazine covers into the Mattel Children’s Unit at UCLA Medical Center. I gave the children instamatic cameras and a little inspiration to take photos and create their own personal magazines. It was an immediate hit with the kids in the playroom and undeniably distracted the children from their illnesses. Picture Me Happy is now classified as an “Arts in Medicine” program.

Cathy Greenblat: In 2001 when I was about to retire from a 35-year career as a professor of sociology, I took up photography, combining my sociological perspective and knowledge with my photo skills. I didn’t know the subject matter I would focus on but I knew I would avoid one that was very painful to me: Alzheimer’s disease. Watching two beloved grandparents die with this problem, I had bought the conventional wisdom that once diagnosed the person was no longer able to converse or do other things, an empty shell. “Care” primarily meant keeping them safe and even the best care facilities did little more than “warehousing.” At the conclusion of a Master Class with Mary Ellen Mark in the spring of 2001, she urged me to continue the small project I had undertaken with her, photographing at a municipal old age home. My first opportunity soon arose and all my knowledge was challenged as I saw care that was loving and effective, and people who were active, stimulated, and responsive. I subsequently produced a 36-photo exhibit and a book, Alive With Alzheimer’s, published in 2004 by the University of Chicago Press. I began to give photos away to worthy places and to lecture about the phenomenon of change in care practices. An exhibit of 36 photos was invited to Kyoto, Japan, and Munich, Germany, and I began to accept such invitations where they could connect me with opportunities to photograph the best care practices in their cities. None of this work was done with financial support or payment. If I had not had a modest retirement income from my academic career, I never could have devoted the time and money to creating a large bank of images from eight countries. This resulted in a new exhibit, which debuted at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC.

At that point I made an important connection with Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), a nonprofit organization that is the coordinating body for almost all of the national Alzheimer’s organizations around the world. I received travel expenses and costs of shipping were covered by the grants we obtained, but I was not paid for the exhibits.

Occasionally I was asked by researchers or organizations for permission to use some of the photos. These were almost all nonprofit organizations and, whenever I felt the work they were doing was important, I either offered images at no charge or at a very low cost. The most extensive use of the photographs was by the Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders Society of India (ARDSI). They used my photographs in many publications, and toured an exhibit of 45 photographs around the country for several years. Then the book Love, Loss, and Laughter: Seeing Alzheimer’s Differently was published in March 2012 in conjunction with exhibits in London and New York City.

The story of the palliative care project is simpler. I had a loose liaison with the International Palliative Care Association and I photographed in France, the USA, Japan, and India in the same self-supported fashion. I believed I could make a difference in how people faced end-of-life issues by showing them photos mixed with text. I exhibited the photographs in several places, including the European Palliative Care Association’s conference, several medical conferences, and at the University of Texas Medical School.


SB: How does the organization you work with best use your photos for their cause to make a difference?

Isaac Howard: Both HIH and GTN use the images on their websites, direct mailings, newsletters, and point of contact. All usages are to help expand awareness to their purpose and to raise financial support. I found the hardest part of doing this type of photography is capturing the purpose of the team. You can and do take a lot of pretty pictures, always looking for that great shot. But you have to remember you are there for the purpose of the team and trying to show what their work is about, not yours. When I first started doing this type of work I used film. I was tasked with showing each person on the team doing their job. The end result was a set of 140 slides of the trip with a set given to each member. The goal was for them to take the images back to their church or civic group to show them in the community to increase project awareness and this aspect was very effective.

Cathy Greenblat: ADI used the photos in many of their publications for about five years, including annual reports, special publications as well as the cover and inside of an important report published in collaboration with the World Health Organization. They also referred many national associations to me for photographs to use in their efforts to increase awareness. These were uses that I felt benefitted them and honored me.


Tim Courtney: Due to HIPPA law/child and family privacy, we have few and select times in taking images of the seriously ill children we serve. We use these images for newsletters, e-mails, our website, social media, print and electronic fundraising materials, the hospital’s public relations department, and sometimes we send them to the parents of the child. To get a child started, we explain how the camera works and offer some ideas and inspiration. You can see the light in their eyes when they get what it is they want to shoot! Picture Me Happy’s philosophy is to give the children full creative control of their projects. They are the photographers, designers, creators of their images and magazines.

Luke Copping: Social media has been the key because one of the universal truths of the Internet is that it’s crazy about pictures of adorable dogs. Almost as soon as I or the shelter volunteers share one of these images it goes immediately viral in the local community, garnering hundreds of likes and dozens of shares and retweets. This really helps to get the word out about these amazing dogs and allows people looking to adopt to connect with the images and stories that accompany them. All of these links push viewers to the animal’s pet finder pages. I’ve also built relationships with many notable local social media figures and have even done some dog portraits for them. They are always key connections for sharing these stories and get just as excited as the volunteers and I about each new image.

SB: How do you feel rewarded or remunerated for your donation of photography? What are the benefits to your business?

Isaac Howard: It is hard to describe the feeling you get when people explain to you how your images made them feel: happy or sad or both? Because it is great to know that you have had a small part in doing something good for others. In all of my travels this volunteer work has built up an amazing body of images I could promote for fine art or editorial projects but currently I try to keep the business of business and my charity work separate.

Cathy Greenblat: I now have the most extensive set of photos that exist of high-quality dementia care. My work has been reported on in major newspapers and magazines and in presentations by CNN, the BBC, and the New York Times website to name a few. I was invited to two of the first three very prestigious G7 Dementia Legacy conferences, in London and Tokyo, to present a 30-minute slide show of good care for delegates from around the world. These sessions were live-streamed around the world in eight languages. I was unable to attend for lack of funds to support my presence, but my work can stand alone. I hope that putting a face on dementia and suggesting we know how to help people with dementia live with dignity will have an impact.

Photos © Cathy Greenblat

Luke Copping: Aside from the huge amount of goodwill, social reach, press, and exposure I get from this project and other events with the shelter, it has also translated into actual income and jobs for me. They range from lucrative private commissions from pet owners to corporate assignments from agencies and veterinary products and sciences firms (even expanding out into working with felines and horses on occasion). Though I started this process for fun to capture images of my own pets, it has become a growing segment of my business over the last year. I’ve even generated a healthy amount of stock sales from some images of my own puppies.

Tim Courtney: Personally, I got into photography because of the “magic,” the excitement, fulfillment, and high levels of passion I got through discovering, calculating, envisioning, creating, and seeing the outcome of the image I produced. I have the honor and joy of seeing hospitalized, seriously ill children and teens discover this within themselves. It’s not about how good or great the images are, but it is about that camera in your hands and the magic that is taking place within your whole being. We pass it on with this project. The primary benefit to my photography business is the expansion of my network. It also strengthens my credibility with many clients, my community, and is good for public relations.

Photos © Cathy Greenblat

SB: What advice do you have for photographers before they start working with nonprofits? What challenges and opportunities can we watch for?

Luke Copping: Work with a nonprofit because you genuinely love their cause, not for a secondary or strategic goal. Almost every photographer has been on the wrong end of a call asking them to work for free for a nonprofit they know isn’t a smart move or a good fit. Generally it is a sure-fire recipe to generate resentment in the long term between you and the organization. Photographers often put too much stock in the exposure they expect to generate from these types of relationships, and it can really sour them from working with a cause they are 100 percent behind when the opportunity comes along. This is a case where passion really is more important than strategy. Expectation management is also key when building these relationships. It can’t be a vendor/employee dialogue if you are going to dedicate yourself to an organization in a meaningful way for free, it has to be more of a partnership/collaboration. I’m so grateful that is what I have with the shelter volunteers. I never feel like an employee or that unreasonable demands are being made by either party. It’s a really simple and casual relationship with the primary goal of finding new homes for overlooked animals.

Isaac Howard: One of the first challenges that I encounter can be easily resolved with a little conversation: it is the issue of expectations. What are they looking for in the photography and what are they going to use it for? The groups I have worked with always try to be too nice and not express their opinions. But just like working for a paying client, there needs to be a good line of communication. Another challenge is travel. Most of the time I am very limited to what I can take. At times this includes my bedding, netting, extra food, clothes, and with the room I have left I pack my camera equipment. All of this has to be carried on the plane and then transported to the site. Then there is the issue of electricity, it is just not available everywhere we travel. It’s not like in the old days where a good OM-1 just needed one battery and you could get by without it. Finally, working in different cultures and languages is always a challenge, but I have found that with a smile and my camera I rarely have a problem. I am often asked why I do these jobs and work with people in other countries, why not just stay in the US? There are two simple answers; first until you go, see, smell, and feel other worlds it is hard to understand the “why.” Second, I do this type of work in the US. Find a nonprofit that you believe in and do the work out of a giving heart and not what you will get in return.

Photos © Isaac Howard

Tim Courtney: Please research the nonprofit at their website, to see if you might be a good fit and then present yourself intelligently when speaking with them. As a photographer, I highly suggest asking “How can I be of help to you?” vs. “Tell me about your project and how you want us to comply with it.” This comes down to an honest question to ask yourself, what are your motives for contacting this nonprofit? If your agenda is how this nonprofit might benefit you with a specific project, they will probably smell you coming a mile away! But once you have created some work and a good relationship together, your project idea might be welcomed (as long as it fits into their mission statement and guidelines). Keep in mind, especially for a big project, you can request that the nonprofit consider your photography as “Services In-Kind.” You can then write off the donation of works or time from your taxes. (Author’s Note: Check with your personal tax accountant.)

Photos © Isaac Howard

SB: What recommendations would you make to a photographer looking to make a difference, perhaps even be a photography activist, and still pay the rent?

Cathy Greenblat: Most people who do this will have to have a source of revenue that is sufficient before they can undertake this kind of work. It is enormously gratifying, and the feelings of doing something to help make the world a better place are wonderful. But it’s easy to get carried away. You have to put limits on the amount of time you can spend in such an enterprise.

Luke Copping: I think that you need to identify where in your life and business that volunteer service fits and if you are in a place where you can dedicate your time to it in a healthy way. Too many look at it as a road to success, thinking along the lines of “working with this organization could get me some great press or net me some jobs” which is the wrong mindset and approach. I think it’s much better to think “I am at a comfortable place in my business that I can start to give back and dedicate some time to working with nonprofits of my choosing in an authentic and dedicated way.” It has to be about your passion for the cause. That’s not to say that emerging photographers or those just starting to build a business shouldn’t volunteer but it should be on your terms. You should set rules and boundaries for yourself and the organizations rather than just clutching at straws and working with any movement or organization that asks you. That’s how people get stretched too thin, stressed out, and soured on the idea of blending volunteer service and photography business.

Web Resources
Luke Copping:,,
Tim Courtney:,
Cathy Greenblat:,
Isaac Howard:,

Other Noteworthy Organizations
Be The Change Inc.:
Lens on Life:
Photographers Without Borders:
Project Exposure:
Volunteer Guide:

andrewdiaz's picture

This is a great post revealing that how to be a profession. Motivational and very much helpful for a professional photographer. I am also doing charity for students by helping them in writing their academic papers through online. Every person has to think about how the business he/she would like to start is helpful for the people and how the people can benefit from it. No one should focus on to get benefit for self by cheating people. Every profession has it's own way to do charity and we are responsible to do it because people believe in us.

mpiscopo's picture

We just found out that Shutterbug has been named a Finalist in the 2015 Folio Editorial Awards -- "the Eddies" -- for best issue for our April 2015 Mobile Photography, Apps, and Social Media issue! This is the magazine publishing industry's equivalent to the Oscars so we're all very proud and honored. Cross your fingers for us as we "go for the gold" at the October 19th awards ceremony!