6 tips for running a successful photography fundraiser

Four years ago, pet services company Woofie’s contacted pet photographer Ellen Zangla to see if she’d make Santa pet portraits for its clients. When Woofie’s asked what Zangla would charge for the gig, she proposed another idea: Set up the Santa portrait sessions as a fundraiser for a local animal rescue.  

Since then, Zangla has made it a regular part of her business to participate in fundraising events for animals in need. “I feel it’s important to give back,” she says. Last year she raised $14,000 via five events with various partners, and the year before she raised $10,000. Some of Zangla’s tips for portrait session fundraisers:

Partner with a company in your niche that has a lot of reach. Woofie’s, for example, has 7,000 people on its mailing list, making it possible to promote the fundraising event to many more people than Zangla could have reached on her own.    

Don’t compete with your regular work. The portraits Zangla makes for fundraisers are done in a studio environment in front of a backdrop. The portraits she makes in her business are done outdoors. So while Zangla is making contact with potential new clients through the fundraisers, she’s not giving them the same kind of product they’d receive if they booked her for a portrait session.

Customers should pay the charity by cash or check. If the customer pays you, you’ll have to count that as income. So make it clear in promotional materials that customers should bring cash or make a check out directly to the charity.

Collect names and emails from participants before making their portraits. Before participants have their pet’s portrait made, Zangla has them fill out a form that requests their name and contact information, including an email address she can use to follow up with digital photos. Zangla writes the image number on the form to keep track of each subject’s photos. The form should also ask if they agree to be added to a mailing list and to allow Zangla to share the pet photos on social media. “It’s a good way to expand your reach in the community,” she says.  

Email each customer their photos before sharing them on social media. “Having that email interaction with people is really important,” Zangla says. “You establish a relationship.” For Santa sessions, Zangla provides a print-quality image, since many customers want to the use it for a holiday card. For Halloween and other themed fundraiser sessions, she provides a social media-sized image.

Offer a giveaway. When Zangla emails customers their photos, she creates an incentive for them to book a portrait session with her. For example, she might offer a limited-time opportunity to donate a portion of their session fee to the same charity that was supported by the fundraiser.  

Amanda Arnold is associate editor of Professional Photographer.