How to Work Profitably with NGOs

by David Walker

Non-government organizations have always been a draw for photographers who want to use their photography to make a difference in peoples' lives. NGOs often provide photographers with access to hard-to-reach places, and sometimes funding and ground support for projects that help raise awareness about issues of interest to the NGO.

Historically, though, NGO work hasn't paid very well. But as NGOs gain media savvy, and come under growing pressure to show donors and funders the impact of their work, they have come to understand the power of photography, and the value of compelling stories, well told. A growing number of NGOs have turned into profitable clients for freelancers. "They have way more money than an editorial client would have," says Washington Post multimedia producer Brad Horn, who did  freelance work for NGOs in the past, and developed strategies for getting NGOs to pay higher fees for his work. 

Many photographers now see NGO work as one alternative to the editorial assignment work that has dried up in the last decade, so competition for assignments is stiff. NGOs are more selective than they once were. And while NGO work often has the look and feel of  documentary, NGOs expect the photographers they hire to support their agendas by casting their projects and personnel in a positive light. In other words, photographers have to balance photojournalism with public relations to succeed at NGO work.

What types of NGO assignments are available? How do photographers compete for that work, and negotiate reasonable fees with organizations that are always pleading poverty? How do photographers get an NGO to support a personal project? Here's a selection of recent PDN articles that address those and other questions through interviews with NGO clients and photographers who have worked with them.

All articles in the PDNOnline archive are accessible to PDN subscribers. 

Landing -- and Pricing -- Work for NGOs:

Client Q&A: How to Land an NGO Assignment

John Novis, head of photography at Greenpeace International, describes what the high-profile environmental organization looks for when hiring photographers. (For PDN Subscribers.)

Turning NGOs Into Paying Clients

Photographers used to trade their services with NGOs for access hard-to-reach stories and logistical support. But now they're getting NGOs to pay them for their work. They tell us why, and how they have turned former partners into paying clients.

How to Quit Doing Freebies for NGOs--And Get Them to Pay You Instead

Six tips on how to convince NGOs of the value of your work, figure out their marketing budgets (even when they say they don't have one), and negotiate appropriate fees.  

Brad Horn on Pricing Multimedia work for NGOs

A (former) freelance multimedia producer explains how he calculates fees for non-governmental organizations as well as commercial and editorial clients. 

How NGOs Work with Photographers: Doctors Without Borders

Doctors Without Borders provides funding for major humanitarian projects and access and logistical support to photographers working on issues that affect the organizations patients.

Case studies:

Alejandro Chaskielberg's Moonlit Portraits for Oxfam

The Argentine photographer known for his cinematic images discusses his unusual assignment of taking nighttime portraits in drought-stricken Kenya for the NGO.

Picture Story: Poisoned American Soldiers, Another Legacy of War

With support from an NGO, photographer Nina Berman follows up her “Purple Hearts” and “Homeland” projects with a four-part multimedia production about veterans debilitated by toxic exposure during their deployment in Iraq.

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