Friday, May 14, 2010

Two Cures For The No Budget Blues

Back in the mid-1980s, when all the established bands were reinventing themselves for the disco scene, The Kinks, seeking to capitalize on the wave released a single called Superman. As that soared to the top of the charts, they released an album which contained a song called Low Budget in which the protagonist sings: Cheap is small and not too steep, But best of all cheap is cheap, Circumstance has forced my hand, To be a cut price person in a low budget land.

Almost thirty years later many of our clients are still singing that song, but they've added one more line (as if cheap is cheap is not enough): "oh, we're a non-profit." The implication, of course, is that they have no money and they want you to do the job for free. Like if you do it for free you'll have money?

I remember the first non-profit I ever worked for: Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Yes, that Lincoln Center. They wanted me to shoot the cover of their annual report for free. This was one of my very first jobs, and the designer, Linda Florio, warned me in advance that they were gonna give me the line and not to fall for it, they have money. I charged them, I think, $1500 for that. They loved the image, it won an award, they had me back again the next year.

Not only is this quite popular these days, everyone's writing about it. Earlier in the week it was a topic on the APAnet forum, this morning it surfaced in Blake Discher's blog.

Blake's a very nice guy, and every time he mentions my name my hit counter registers an extra hundred visitors, so I don't mind at all if he quotes me. This morning, he wrote, "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."

I want to give credit where credit is due, too: the quote belongs to Marc Hauser.

So, how does Marc deal with non-profits? "I'm glad you called me because I do indeed have a special fee set up for charities such as yours. I shoot 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." That's a pretty good plan, over time it works out to half-price.

I, needless to say, have my own plan and here's how mine works.....

If I work for a charity it must be one that I fully support and I charge a fee plus production charges (digital capture and post-production, assistants, taxis, strobe rentals, whatever). We work out an arrangement whereby I donate a large portion of my fee after I've been paid... after I've been paid.

Why? Let's say you shoot for four days for a charitable org. Your fees amount to, I don't know, let's say $6000 and the production charges are another $1200. You send an invoice/license for $7200 and they pay you $7200. You then send your check for $3500 as a donation.

You get invited to dinners with other large donors, make connections, work for your new friends for full fee, you get a tax deduction for your $3500 donation and the charity gets a 75% discount on your fees. You've made money, made some friends who can afford your services for their businesses, enjoy the status of being a big donor which advances your standing in the community and you've actually made some money.

When you work for free the only one who benefits is the charity. They get your work for free. You don't get a tax deduction, don't get the black tie invite, don't get to hobnob (I mean Network) with the glitterati, and most of the time you don't even get a decent tear-sheet, as they haven't a decent printing budget.

So there's two solutions to the same problem. Mine works best when there's one project on the table, but I like Marc's, too. I'm gonna use it next time to see if I can stretch the new relationship a bit.

As Blake said later on, "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... Introduce yourself, be personable, look professional, and hand out business cards... 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."
Top YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago Annual Report 2009
Bottom Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts Annual Report 1991


Anonymous singapore corporate photography said...

I like the portrait of the woman wearing orange and her background is also in orange. Its also very complimenting to her skintones. Really beautiful.

10:53 PM  
Blogger Joe P. said...

Thank you. And orange is also the official color of YWCA Chicago, runs through all their visuals from interior walls to signage to print publications.

7:33 AM  

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