Featured Nonprofit: Idealist.org

When I’ve profiled charities and nonprofits in this space, I’ve tended to focus on organizations whose focus and mission are directly photography-related. Indeed, many photographers who are charity-minded are already well acquainted with the work of  one or more of these organizations. While I’ll be going back to profiling more of those great nonprofits and their work in this space, I’m making an exception this month for Idealist.

Here’s the thing: I think that photo charities are great. They’re even better if you have a cause about which you’re passionate, and to which you want to donate your talents and services. But what if you just want to get your toes wet, or if you’re not 100% sure where your passion and time are best spent? That’s where Idealist really shines.

The idea for Idealist came to founder Ami Dar in the mid-1980’s. Eleven years and a couple of name changes later, Idealist launched. In the decade and a half since, it’s become the closest thing online to a one-stop shop for anything and everything related to nonprofit organizations. Not only are there literally thousands of volunteer opportunities from all around the world, there are also jobs, internships, programs, and a pretty lively community around the whole lot of it.

And while it’s not a portrait charity, it’s a great fit for photographers who might want to volunteer. Sometimes you might just be looking for a shorter-term volunteer gig, or maybe you’re not confident enough in your photography to volunteer as a photographer but you’d still like to do something. You’re likely to find something here. It’s also good from an organizational standpoint, especially if your NPO/NGO’s mission isn’t explicitly related to photography or portraiture, but you could use a bit of help behind the camera.

So, whether you’re looking to donate (time, money, or services), work, launch your own organization or project, or find just the right person for something you’ve already got up and running, give idealist.org a try (if you haven’t already). It’s a phenomenal resource.

Postscript: visit Idealist on the web to find out all about who they are, what they do, and what, in turn, you can do:  www.idealist.org

Charity Profile: Operation: Love ReUnited

Click to find out more about Operation: Love ReUnited

Deployments are too hard on families, and homecomings too joyous, to give much thought to documenting the occasion. Your loved ones are the first thing on your mind, and a camera… well, it’s much further down the list, if it even occurs to you at all. Tonee Lawrence found this out the hard way. Her husband deployed to the Middle East in January 2005, and when he returned some months later, she had little to show for it photographically.

Operation: Love ReUnited was started a short time later, in September, 2006, so that other service members and their families would have a means of documenting these occasions. The first shoot was by Lawrence herself, for a friend whose husband was being deployed. In the five years since, hundreds of photographers – some, like Lawrence, military spouses, others just volunteers with a passion – have captured literally thousands of images of service members and their families, both as they depart for overseas operations, and during their return home.

Participating photographers waive their fees, and agree to send a 4×6 printed album of the images to the deployed soldier, at no cost to the family. When homecomings are photographed, the photographer gives an album or a cd of the images to the returning military member, all with no financial obligation by the service member or their family.

The organization has gotten attention from military spouses (hardly surprising), but is also the only organization whose policies and guidelines have been fully reviewed and approved by the Department of Defense  (you can read the DoD’s feature on the organization here http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=52589).

The organization is still looking for photographers, especially to be able to mobilize large numbers on short notice when troops are deployed. Monetary donations are also sought in order to defray the organization’s members’ travel expenses, which can be considerable. You can find out more about Operation: Love ReUnited’s services, volunteer guidelines, and network of volunteer photographers by visiting their website, http://www.oplove.org/ You may also find them on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/oplove .

Giving Back in the Wake of Irene

Rutherford, NJ, near the Passaic River, 8/30/11

After several days spent preparing for a hurricane by stocking up on enough canned goods to feed the 101st Airborne for a week and tracking the storm’s every wobble on television, we found ourselves lucky. Aside from a loss of internet access for a bit, we got off easy. A glance back at the television, and then a few days spent outside with my gear, reminded me that while this may have been a “minor” storm, there’re quite a few people — many within a short walk of home, some farther afield — who didn’t get off nearly as easily.

I’ve profiled nonprofits in this space before, and will continue to do so. For right now, however, I’d like to encourage you to help your neighbors — whether they’re down the street, or a thousand miles away — in whatever way you can. I’ve compiled a few tips to hopefully make the process a bit easier.

Wallington, NJ, 8/30/11

Things you can do:

    • Donate. Whether it’s your time or your money, it will be put to good use.
    • Designate where you want the funds to go. The American Red Cross got a bit of a bad rap in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 after a controversy over money not going where the donors intended. The Red Cross learned from the experience, however, and has procedures in place so that if you specify that you’d like your donation to go to hurricane relief, that’s how it will be used; likewise, if you’d like your money to go to the organization’s general fund, you can donate with no strings attached. Other organizations have similar safeguards in place. If you’re not sure, ask, and don’t be shy about making your wishes clear.
    • If you want to donate goods — food, clothing, and the like — call in advance to find out what’s needed. This can vary widely based not only on geography, but also on what the organizations on the ground already have stockpiled, or have already received. They may well be up to their ears in canned goods but short on toiletries, for instance; a tube of Colgate may go much farther than a can of soup.
    • Unfortunately, some people with no scruples will see this as an opportunity to profit off of someone else’s misfortune. Be especially wary of giving your financial information (credit card numbers and the like) to someone on the basis of an email or telemarketing call. If something feels “off,” it probably is. If you’re not sure about an organization that’s soliciting your time or money, go to www.charitynavigator.org, which can help you to find out if an organization’s on the up and up, as well as what percentage of your donation will be used for aid versus administrative expenses.
    • Find out if your employer will match your donations, either by percentage or in full. If they do, what you give will be multiplied that much more.
    • Donate online or by text message. The funds will often be available much faster to organizations much faster than they would’ve been if you’d sent a check.
    • Finally, don’t forget smaller, often local organizations. Some of these, naturally, will be providing disaster assistance. Others may have missions not related to Irene at all, but they’ll still need your help. People are unfailingly generous when disaster strikes, but often the donations flow to larger, better-known organizations at the expense of smaller ones.
Spring Lake Boardwalk, 8/29/11
    Curious what you can do as a photographer? If you live in or near an area that’s been effected, use your talents to get the word out, along with visuals. If it’s an area that’s been neglected by the media, so much the better. And of course, the usual rules of tact, ethics, and common sense apply: stay safe, be transparent about what you’re doing and why, and if someone would rather you didn’t photograph them (or their property), honor their wishes.  Think about it: this is a stressful enough time for many people, and the last thing you want to do is add to that stress.

To donate or get help, find your local Red Cross chapter here.

Visit Charity Navigator for information before you donate.

Full disclosure: the link for donations that appears below this post is for this blog, NOT for the American Red Cross or any other nonprofit. If you want to donate, please do it via the Red Cross link above, or via your local chapter.