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A Guest Post by Chris De Bruyn
A fundraiser? With photos? For charity? Absolutely! One of the most rewarding experiences I have had as a photographer is hosting annual charity fundraising auctions with my photos. Hosting a fundraiser is a great way to give something back to the community, to network with community members and raise awareness about pressing local issues. I have been hosting charity auctions for the past four years, and since I hosted one this past week and it is fresh on my mind and I thought I write a little article highlighting a few lessons I’ve learned over the years.
Choose a relevant theme. Since I have been working abroad the past 6 years in Mongolia and Iraq, my themes have dealt with Mongolian and Iraqi cultures and issues. I tend to choose a fairly broad theme, encompassing a variety of subthemes. My most recent auction covered the theme “Glimpses of Kurdistan”, with subthemes touching on Kurdish culture, environmental problems and solutions, developing democracy and hope. In my experience having a variety of images will appeal to a wider variety of bidders than having one specific theme throughout. I have found that 30-50 photos will be comprehensive enough to do the theme justice, and will be enough to raise a few thousand dollars for a local non-profit.
Decide to whom you want to donate the proceeds. I always try to give the proceeds to an active non-profit doing good work in the community. Last year I gave the money to Sulyon, a group of local Iraqi artists. This year I donated the money to the Iraq Upper Tigris Waterkeeper project and their upcoming Green Music and Arts Festival. Be sure to invite the beneficiary to the fundraiser and to give representatives from the non-profit a chance to raise awareness about the work they are doing. This will enable community members who attend the fundraiser to know how they can be involved.
Decide how large of an event you want to organize. If you have plenty of time on your hands, get in touch with local art galleries and see if it is possible to host your fundraiser there. I hosted two auctions in galleries in Mongolia and both times the owners were happy to let me use the space. I wrote a press release for the media and 3 or 4 television stations showed up, giving good exposure for the non-profits I partnered with.
A lower-key option is to host the fundraiser at home. This option is easier to prepare and gives the auction a less formal atmosphere. When I’ve done this, I have hung the prints on the walls of a few large rooms and turn my apartment into a gallery.
In my experience, a few weeks is plenty of time to prepare for the fundraiser. The first steps involve selecting and printing the photos. I prefer to have the photos printed on particle board, which is both cost-effective and elegant (Jihan Lab in Sulaimaniyah offers 30x45cm prints on particle board for $12/each). Once you have finalized the location and the event is roughly a week away, it is a good idea to send an invitation out to friends and family. Here is what I sent out for as my most recent invitation:
You are cordially invited to a fundraising photography auction on the theme of “Glimpses of Kurdistan” this upcoming Thursday. Here are the details:
What: An auction of Chris De Bruyn’s photography
Why: To raise money for the upcoming Green Music and Arts Festival
Where: Lak City, Building D6, apartment #3, Sulaimani, Iraq
When: Thursday, April 12th from 6-8pm
Light refreshments and libations will be offered, but you are welcome to add your own dish if you’d like. Feel free to bring friends and family; the more the merrier! Please spread the word!
Chris De Bruyn
There are a variety of ways that you can price your photos for the fundraiser. Regardless of which option you choose, it is a good idea to discretely sign each of the prints so that the winning bidders receive a more individualized product.
a. Set prices – Have the photos for sale for a set price. Perhaps $50 or $100 each, depending on what your guests are likely to be willing to pay. The cost of prints can vary widely from country to country; in Mongolia my prints cost less than $3/each which in Iraq they are over 4 times that amount. If you are in the US, zenfolio.com is a good service to consider. After creating an account, you can order 10”x15” prints for less than $7/each.
b. Silent auction – If you want the bids to be confidential you can have guests write their bids on individual sheet of paper with their contact information. The downside of this is option is that contact the winning bidders can be very labor intensive; calling each winner individually and arranging a time for them to pick up and pay for their prints.
If confidentiality isn’t a pressing concern you can place a bidding sheet beside each photo and have guests write their names and bids (I start by doing this).
c. Live auction – This option is the most exciting for raising money. An auctioneer (hopefully someone who is confident with a voice that carries well) goes from photo to photo and guests speak up when they are willing to pay the auctioneer’s price. The crowd can get extremely excitable during a live auction so make sure to choose an auctioneer that can handle a crowd and keep the atmosphere light and fun.
d. Hybrid – I prefer to have a hybrid silent/live auction. During the silent auction guests write down their bids to determine the starting bid for the live auction. When the live auction starts, the guests know which photos they are interested in and they have a relative idea of what photos will likely cost.
After the winning bids have been determined, it’s time for the winning bidders to pick up their photos. The easiest way to handle the payment is for someone to collect all of the bidding sheets, and have the winners pay for the photos immediately after the auction. The amount of money you raise depends on the quality and number of photos you print, the guests that attend and pricing option you choose. I have noticed a very strong correlation between the number of bottles of wine I offer the guests and the amount of money raised. If you want to raise the most money possible, a few glasses of Shiraz can go a long way.
Organizing a charity fundraiser with your photos can be an amazingly rewarding experience. It is a great opportunity to engage with your community, celebrate with your friends, and gain exposure as a photographer while giving back to a worth-while non-profit. Most importantly, have fun!
Chris De Bruyn is an English lecturer and photography instructor at the American University of Iraq-Sulaimani. His work has been featured on VOA News, The Bay Citizen, BBC, and National Geographic. Feel free to visit his website at www.chrisdebruyn.com