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Generosity – 5 reasons and 4 ways to give back with photography

Generosity – give back!

I come from a family full of givers. My mom, grandmother and aunt have always had open hearts and doors for anyone. They give far more than they receive or take, and it shows in the rich number of friends with whom they are surrounded. Their specialty (especially my grandmother, know by everyone simply as “Grammy”) is feeding people. No one goes hungry in their homes. No one goes home without a cookie in their pocket, a bottle of water in their bag and a full tummy.

The value of being generous

So in my life as a photographer I've used my skills and talents to give back whenever I could in different capacities. I'll give you a few examples of how you can too, no matter your photography skill or experience level. I find the value of generosity and just freely giving, with nothing expected in return, gives back huge rewards not measurable in monetary terms. No, it's worth so much more.

By giving you can receive any or all of the following:

  • gain self respect and self esteem (most of us are sadly lacking these qualities) do for others and you can't help feel good about yourself
  • make new friends – ones with similar values, goals and interests
  • gain perspective – by helping those less fortunate or less experienced it gives you a perspective you may not otherwise see. One of gratitude for what you have and what you've achieved
  • find a purpose – the elusive meaning of life perhaps, perhaps not. But a goal, a mission, and something to work towards for sure
  • gain respect and esteem from others – most of us so badly want to be accepted and liked by others. By giving you inadvertently get that without trying. Trust me!

Okay so how do you get started? While I don't have all the answers I'm going to give you a few ideas, things that I've done over the years. Pick one, or do them all, whatever feels right for you. Or do something entirely different.

Donated to charity
Donated to charity

Generosity of time

There's two things many of us always seem to lack – time and money. So even if you have little of the latter to spare, giving of your time is just as valuable, sometimes even more so, than a monetary donation. I can't count the number of hours I've spent over the years working for charities, or doing other activities. The point is I get as much value as the group or person I'm giving my time to. Here's some ways I've done that.

#1 Give your time to a charity close to your heart

Over the years I've worked with a few local charities including:

  • Ran a photo club at the Boys and Girls club in the inner city. I was right out of Nait Photography (college) and I volunteered to work with the kids after school. I had about 6-10 kids (it fluctuated) ages 10-15. They had basic 35mm film cameras at the centre and a b/w darkroom. I showed them how to take better photos and process them in the darkroom. We even did 2 field trips and a sleep over at my own apartment where we watched movie, made brownies and stayed up all night. I spent about 4 hours a week on this for a few years and the joy I got from the kids and their experience was invaluable. They also taught me about what life is like in the inner city and how way too many of them have had to grow up way too fast.
  • Fundraised for Bissell Centre – another inner city organization whose missing is “where hope finds help”. I sat on the committee that organized their yearly dinner and auction. As I was connected in the business community, I used my contacts to solicit donations for the auction. I also donated something for auction myself yearly, and often worked the event as volunteer also. Is there a charity to which you can donate a print and help them out? Do they need volunteers to help out? Just ask!
  • Photographed events and their store for Bissell Centre – I've given my time to work various events for the Centre over the years (including a Round Dance celebrating those that passed, and photos of their thrift store) and sometimes do photography for them as well. This is something you could do potentially! This is not art, it's event coverage and they are super appreciative of anything you can do to help. Find a charity that needs photos and offer your time and service. It could be the local animal shelter, maybe you walk dogs and photograph the ones up for adoption or the Poster dogs. What interests you? Ask yourself “how can I help?” – then ask them!
Bissell Centre Round Dance
Bissell Centre Round Dance
Bissell Centre Round Dance
Bissell Centre Round Dance
  • Serve dinner to about a 1000 under privileged people every New Years day – Bissell Centre (again) puts on a dinner every January 1st where they serve meals to approximately a thousand homeless and impoverished people, and hand out hats, mittens and wool socks. The kids all get a toy as well, for some it's their only gift. All the food is made by a local caterer and baked goods and drinks are also donated. I started doing it when a friend was their volunteer coordinator and needed a hand. I've been doing it ever since and in 25 years I've only missed two, when I was out of the country. I find it's a huge dose of that thing called perspective, much needed after a holiday full of indulgences and materialism, in my opinion. So even in my 20s and 30s, even if I partied late the night before, I was at this event by 10am ready to help. My husband, Rob, now comes with me every year (the first guy that ever did, so I think he's a keeper hey?!). When you think you've got it hard, do something to put it in perspective. This is a huge wake up call for me every year and it helps me end any “poor me” pity parties I have going on, at least for a while.
Bissell Centre New Years dinner
Bissell Centre New Years dinner
Bissell Centre New Years dinner
Bissell Centre New Years dinner – that's a LOT of turkey!
  • Served lunch at Bissell Centre weekly when I was unemployed. After a 6 month RV trip I had a period of uncertainty when I was between jobs and projects. I felt frustrated and a bit depressed, so rather than feeling sorry for myself I signed up to volunteer to serve lunch once a week at the centre. I highly recommend this if you are in the dumps! You get that dose of perspective again and see that things really could be much worse. I had my own home and options, which is a lot more than the clients of the centre. It helped me be more positive and see things in a new light. Within 2 months I had a new job and started teaching photography, which is my new calling! I continued to serve lunch bi-weekly for almost a year.

Getting any ideas? It doesn't even have to be photography related but if is it, all the better.

#2 Help someone less experienced

Over the years I've had the honour and privilege to have been mentored by some of the best photographers in my city. They gave freely of their time, knowledge and experience and I learned to do the same. In the spirit of Pay it Forward just as my mentors helped me when I was a young pup in the industry, so too have I taken many under my wing. Sometimes that means a coffee date, other times it was help analyzing price lists, reviewing images, or sometimes just encouragement to keep going.

Now as a teacher I have many opportunities to help others. I tend to go a bit above and beyond what other instructors do however, or so I'm told! This is a comment from a student in my new virtual class “4 Weeks to Better Photography”

It is very nice that you make yourself so available to answer questions, and provide extensive resources! You have been the most helpful and available teacher I have had for photography!!! I love the way you design your interactive class. – Sharana M.

I've led walkd for the official Worldwide photowalk for the last 4 years and several others on my own just for the fun of it.
I've been a walk leader for the official Scott Kelby Worldwide Photowalk for the last 4 years and also ran several others on my own just for the fun of it to get people out shooting.

Worldwide photowalk group 2012

Worldwide photowalk group 2011

You do not have to be an expert, or a professional to help someone else. You just need more experience! Perhaps you aren't there yet and you need to be on the receiving end – that's fine too! Just remember two things:

  1. When someone wants to help you let them! If you decline you are robbing that person of the experience of giving we all value and love so much. Just accept and remember . . .
  2. When the time comes, it's your turn to pay it forward and help someone else

#3 Sell or donate your images for fundraising efforts

Many charities, kids groups, and individuals have silent auctions as a way to raise funds for their cause. If you get approached by one consider donating a print, or a portrait session if that's something you do regularly (don't offer a portrait if you've never done them!). You may want to even seek a few out just to get some of your work out there.

STOP!

Before your inner voice starts telling you something like “my images aren't good enough who would want to pay money for any of my work?!” just stop yourself right there! Have you got an image friends have commented on and they really love? That one! We are our own worst critics so at some point it's time to just get over that fear of “but no one will like it/me” and just take the leap. This is a perfect time to do so because you have nothing to lose and the charity has everything to gain. Go ahead and offer your print. Even if it sells for $20 it's twenty bucks more than they had without it and you've contributed, AND the person who buys it will feel pleased to have it, I bet you anything!

Donated to charity
Donated to charity

#4 Photograph someone that couldn't afford it otherwise

This could come in the form of photographing a friend or neighbor who asks you to take their family portraits, or something like Help Portrait!

Second time around, I much prefer this portrait over the first version!

I wrote more about this in my article “Help Portrait 2012 and my Top 5 Random Portrait Tips“. Basically what happens is photographers, make-up and hair stylists and other volunteers put together an event where people can just show up and get a portrait to take home with them that day. Even if you don't feel confident being one of the photographers there's many other ways to help out and hang out and watch the photo sessions. It's a fabulous event to be part of as you watch the people proudly receive their photos.

If there isn't such an event in your area maybe you can start one or do something like it on a smaller scale with a church group or other organized charity. Or simply just go back to doing this for someone you know. Having photography of your family is so important and too many people just simply can't afford a professional.

Plan of action

When you think you have nothing to offer, think again. Use what skills you do have. Get creative about how you can give back in your community. I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes on this subject and urge you to get out and do something, anything!

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. What I can do, I should do. And what I should do, by the grace of God, I will do.” – Edward Everett Hale

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