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: Shutter Mission

Some months back, when The First 10,000 was still in the planning stages, I thought to myself that it might be a good idea to see what  photo-related charities and nonprofits might be out there. I’d do the occasional article, and at some point devote a page to what I’d found. Then I found that someone had beaten me to it, and in fact devoted an entire website and organization to doing just that.

That someone is Amanda Shoemaker, who started Shutter Mission when she began to realize how many people could benefit from the services offered by portrait charities, but might not be aware of their existence. Feeling that a mere directory would be “boring,” she decided to showcase the charities alongside the work of the photographers who volunteered with them, partly in the hope that other photographers might also be inspired to give back.

Gradually, Shutter Mission took shape. Over time, it’s grown into its mission, “[t]o highlight portrait charities and support photographers who give their time, talent, and heart.” It has likewise evolved according to a plan laid out before the charity even launched; Shoemaker envisioned, and grew, a central hub for photographers to learn about different options in photography charities, a directory of those charities for the benefit of interested photographers and individuals who could benefit from them, and a photo blog that has showcased organizations and photographers alike. She was kind enough to sit down recently and answer a few questions.

Chicken-and-egg question: I see that you and your husband work in the interactive industry. Since both of you spend so much time around graphics, was photography a natural outgrowth of that, or was it the other way around?

My husband, Eric Shoemaker, is an art director here in San Francisco. I’m a contract web developer and work from our home office in Alameda. We’ve both been into photography for years. I fell in love with it in my youth… my dad was a science teacher at my high school, and the photography club director. He was the one who taught me all the ins and outs of the darkroom. Ever since, I have always been involved in photography… with local clubs, starting a portrait business in Atlanta, and volunteering. As for my husband, I gave Eric his first SLR for his birthday back in 2005, and he hasn’t put it down since. Eric’s favorite subject is his ’67 Beetle, and he has an amazing knack for capturing textures and urban scenes. Often on weekends, we go on “photo strolls” together, around Alameda or in the City. Since we are fairly new to the Bay area (we moved here in 2009), capturing our new town is one of our very favorite things to do.

Of all the things you could have done with your photography, you chose to start ShutterMission. What was the spark for that?

Out of all the portrait sessions I had back when I had my business in Atlanta, my very favorites were the Operation: Love ReUnited sessions. I loved that I could really and truly help someone with my art. It was so touching to witness a military homecoming at the airport, to see a child hug her father who had been gone for so many long months, to see a couple kiss for the first time in too long. And to be able to be there to capture that was the best feeling ever. I fell in love with the idea of portrait charities, and the idea with Shutter Mission was to simply get the word out about all these great organizations. For one, so that families knew they existed and could utilize their services, and two, so that photographers looking to volunteer had a place to find the right organization that fit their skills and interests. I looked around the web, and could not find a site where all of these types of charities were collected, so the idea started with a directory of sorts, and grew from there.

I notice that it was six months between when you initially announced the project on Capturing Light and when it finally went live. Tell me about what was going on behind the scenes during that time.

Well, we had just moved 2,500 away from all our family and friends to a strange new city. You probably don’t want to know what was going on “behind the scenes” here! It was a big adjustment for both of us, and quite honestly, the spare time that I assumed I would have to work on side projects like Shutter Mission wasn’t as abundant as I had hoped. Between work contracts, I squeezed in some time to build it. And because I’m a constant tweaker, it took even longer. But hey, better late than never!

What was the moment when you said, “You know, I’ve really got something here?”

Ha! That hasn’t really happened yet. I’d love to carve out some more time to devote to the blog, and hopefully grow the community. Ideally, I’d like to reach as many photographers as possible, so that the charities can get the max amount of exposure for their causes and be fully “stocked” with available volunteers.

What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment thus far?

A mention on the Chicago Tribune’s site was pretty nice… and was a great way to spread the word about charity photography.

And what’s the next milestone you hope to reach?

My next goal with Shutter Mission is to partner with a few photography-specific vendors and host some giveaways for photographers. I’d like to do this as a way to show appreciation for the volunteer work that is being done for the charities, but I also want to attract new photographers to the site who may have not heard of portrait charities before. It will be a great way to educate photographers about the different charities out there and encourage them to get involved.

If someone’s thinking of volunteering with a portrait charity, but either isn’t sure of themselves, or of their skill level, what advice would you give them?

Great question! A lot of charities do require that you are indeed a professional in order to join as a volunteer, and the reason for that is that the people who are being helped via these organizations deserve the absolute best image quality they can get. NILMDTS [Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep] comes to mind… with an infant bereavement session, there are no do-overs. You have to get it right, be professional, sensitive and caring. However, there are volunteer opportunities available for photographers at every skill level. For example, Dog Meets World is open to any photographer who wants to “travel, take pictures, and give joy.” And Help-Portrait utilizes not just photographers, but they also need Adobe Lightroom experts, greeters, lighting technicians, print techs, makeup artists, and more. My advice is, if you want to use your talent to help someone… regardless of skill level… go for it! There is likely a charity that needs you!

Anything you’d like to add that we haven’t already covered?

“You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.” — Winston Churchill

Paul here again: If there’s a lesson to be drawn, it’s this: no matter what your niche or level of skill, there’s likely an organization that fits your interests and passions, and they could probably use your help. If you’re looking for a good overview of your options, or just want to learn more, Shuttermission.org is a great starting point.

As befits someone with over ten years’ experience building websites, Amanda’s all over the web. Of course, there’s http://shuttermission.org/. You can also find her on Twitter (@shuttermission), view her portfolio on the  Lane | Russell website, and visit her blog at www.capturinglight.com

Featured Nonprofit: HeARTs Speak

Image courtesy of Lisa Prince Fishler/HeARTs Speak

Photographer Lisa Prince Fishler started HeARTs Speak for one simple reason: every day, from one end of the country, countless adoptable animals are needlessly euthanized. More often than not, they haven’t landed in shelters because there’s something wrong with them; changes in their owners’ lives — be it a drop in income, a change in living arrangements, or the arrival of a child — or simple abandonment account for the lion’s share of shelter animals.

Just as simple economics sometimes works against pet owners, it’s not a shelter’s best friend, either. The average shelter runs on a shoestring, and providing funds to a photographer or painter means cutting back somewhere else. Artists, similarly, may find themselves in the unenviable position of wanting to help but being unable if volunteer work means cutting back on paid assignments. HeARTs Speak takes a two-pronged approach to these problems through donations of photographic equipment to shelters that are inaccessible to photographers, and via cash stipends to the photographers themselves.  With simple photographs and paintings, HeARTs Speak and its contributing artists put a face on the problem, raising not only awareness, but also adoption rates in the process.

The good news is that increasing the number of adoptions by a mere three percent means the end of shelter animals being needlessly put to death. HeARTs Speak seeks “[t]o unite the individual efforts of animal artists & animal rescues into collective action for social change.” Their mission is “to provide the framework, tools & resources to support animal artists working to help animals in need; to disseminate messages that inspire a better understanding of the emotions of animals & ultimately an understanding of, and compassion towards them; to connect Rescues/Shelters with artists with the intention of breaking down the myth that animals from Rescues and Shelters are inferior in some way. Professional Photographs greatly improve adoptability and ultimately, will increase the number of animals adopted and reduce the numbers that are euthanized.”

Says Fishler, “I love what happens when people come together.” To that end, her outreach has included not just photographers and painters, but also other organizations. “HeARTs Speak is actually very excited to be joining forces with The Unexpected Pit Bull Calendar. They’ve been around since 2004, and donate 100% of their net proceeds to pit bull dog related advocacy and rescue groups.  We had almost 40 submissions for the calendar, of which we chose 13 to grace its pages.  It’s something new for us, and for TUPB, but what has resulted is pure magic.”

Animal rescue can seem like a daunting task, but Fishler seems to hew to the old adage that it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog: “We only need to increase the number of animals adopted each year by 3% in order to reduce the numbers euthanized to zero.  The more people we have working together, the sooner we can make that happen.” If you’d like to join in the effort, whether as a donor or as a photographer (the organization is always looking for artists and photographers, of all skill levels), visit their website, http://heartsspeak.org/

A Word About Our “Sponsors”

This space for rent, apparently...

Frequent visitors to The First 10,000 (both of you) have no doubt noticed that a chunk of the right-hand side of the blog was taken up by a series of advertising blocks that have been sitting vacant for the last few weeks. There were reasons for this.

For one thing, I was, and remain, ambivalent about having a blog that’s supported by commercial advertising, since having, say, Nikon as a sponsor could cause people to question my motivation and objectivity if I have something to say about their product.

For another, there was also no way to disable the advertising links. Since I didn’t want that space to go to waste, I’ve reached out to a handful of nonprofit organizations and charities whose work either intersects with, or is directly related to, photography. The space is a donation of sorts; it wasn’t paid for by the organizations, and so probably isn’t “advertising” as such. I simply wanted to draw attention to organizations that are doing good work, and I hope that you’ll visit their sites to find out what they’re all about.

From time to time, I’ll be “featuring” organizations, giving them a bit larger presence on the site, and telling you a bit more about them. You’ll find more information on this month’s featured organization, HeARTs Speak, next week, and in the near future, I hope to have a page assembled that brings attention to these organizations and the work they’re doing.  In the meantime, visit, volunteer, and if you know of other organizations that cover similar ground, please contact me.

Special thanks to Amanda Shoemaker of ShutterMission, Kim Davidson of Idealist, Lisa Prince Fishler of HeARTs Speak, Burk Jackson of Creative Cares, and Tonee Lawrence of Operation: Love ReUnited for their assistance and kind permission to feature their organizations.