Now Struggling Artists Can Donate to Charity

January 28, 2011

After a while in the making, I wrote up a PhilanthroPhotos “business plan”. It details the ideas of a new business that seeks to recruit budding photographers to utilize their photographs for philanthropy.

If you’re in a rush, read the summary only. Any and all feedback is greatly appreciated via comments or email. A downloadable version can be found here. I want to make this happen, but would love input from others.

PhilanthroPhotos Business Plan (1/28/11)

PhilanthroPhotos: Photographs for a Cause.


PhilanthroPhotos is a non-profit social business idea that seeks to spotlight budding photographers while selling photo products that support a charitable cause. The company will sell framed prints, calendars, coffee table books etc. using donated photographs and each product will include a gift card to an organization such as GlobalGiving (where consumers will be able to donate to a charity of their choice) or a local non-profit partner. A website will spotlight the contributing photographers (and aggressively market their personal websites), and all products will take advantage of cause-marketing. Essentially, PhilanthroPhotos will do all the professional services (editing, printing, framing, marketing) that amateurs wish to avoid because of the time and expense, while also allowing professional photographers to donate their artwork to a good cause and expand their marketing.


The mission of PhilanthroPhotos is two-fold:

1) Spotlight budding photographers

The work of contributing photographers will be prominently featured in a professional product.  For many amateurs, this may be their first opportunity to see their work disseminated to consumers. For young professionals, this could simultaneously help bring heavy exposure to their photograph collection while empowering them to use their photos for philanthropy.

2) Recruit consumers to donate to charity

With each product purchase, the consumer will receive a gift card that can be donated to a charity of his or her choice. This will not only help support other non-profit organizations, but also expose consumers to the ease of online fundraising outlets such as GlobalGiving.

PhilanthroPhotos will also prioritize complete transparency in all of its business operations: all budgets, costs, revenues, and marketing decisions will be published online. In this way, it will be open to criticisms and suggestions to ensure optimal efficiency and cost-effectiveness. PhilanthroPhotos hopes to achieve the highest standards of transparency and accountability.

Non-profit Status:

The organization will seek non-profit status to ensure a maximal amount of revenues will go to other charities. The charitable involvement will incorporate three consumer options:

1) Included gift cards to a charity network (for online purchases)

Part of the cost of each product will include a set gift card amount that will be delivered to the consumer. For example, if the consumer purchases a $50 coffee table book, $35 may go to cover production costs while the remaining $15 will go to cover the cost of a gift card. The gift card will allow the consumer to donate online (to a site such as and personally choose a charity to support.

2) Support local charities (for local events)

The products can also be sold as fundraising items, with all proceeds supporting local non-profits. For example, the product may be sold at a silent auction for a non-profit gala event, or as a general fundraising effort for 501(c)3 organizations.

3) Support the photographer’s chosen charity (for purchases of some framed prints)

If the photographer has a specific charity of interest, (s)he may suggest all proceeds of his or her framed photographs go to a specific organization.

Cause-marketing has created some welcome debate within the philanthropy realm (Stanford Social Innovation Review 2009, Selfish Giving 2009). The major criticisms are that cause-marketing distracts consumers from the issues, distances donors from their beneficiaries, and fails to address the fact that methods of cheap production often produce many of the social problems that charities try to fix. By offering GlobalGiving gift cards, PhilanthroPhotos seeks to overcome these potential disadvantages by empowering consumers to give on their own terms, to see the projects that non-profits are working on, and to choose their own beneficiaries.


As an organization, PhilanthroPhotos will collect, evaluate, and edit photographs and produce a limited menu of items that will be sold online, in local auctions, and in local fundraising events. Successful products will likely include professional coffee table books, photo calendars, and professional prints. With greater market research, other items may be included.

Coffee table books will be designed by PhilanthroPhotos staff and then submitted to an online photobook production company. Possible suppliers include Lulu, Blurb, MixBook, VioVio, and MyPublisher. Orders will be made in bulk and products will be sold at the cost of production plus the cost of the charitable gift card. Estimated price of production is currently between $20-$60, depending on size, paper quality, and quantity purchased.

To develop professional prints, PhilanthroPhotos will likely develop a partnership with a local photography production company though will seek opportunities to outsource printing, framing, and shipping at low cost.

Talent Recruitment:

PhilanthroPhotos will recruit amateur and professional photographers who are willing to “donate” non-exclusive rights to use of photographs to the PhilanthroPhotos company. Ideal candidates for contributing photographers are amateur photographers who produce high-quality photos but do not want to take the time to edit, frame, market, or sell their art. Professional photographers may also be willing to donate limited rights to their photographs for a charitable cause.

For amateur photographers, PhilanthroPhotos will offer to print, frame, and market the photographic art at market prices with all profits going to GlobalGiving gift cards or the charity of the photographer’s choice.

For professional photographers, PhilanthroPhotos will offer the same services (if preferred) or will use the photographs in compilation products such as coffee table books. The central website will clearly link to the professional’s website if the consumer would like to buy individual prints.

All contributing photographers, regardless of their professional level, will benefit from the widespread distribution of their artwork and a new venue for advertising both their talent and their goodwill.

Photo contests will also be a key method of obtaining high-quality photographs. By offering a cash reward, PhilanthroPhotos will receive photo entries that can be used in future products. Part of the contest agreement will stipulate that non-exclusive rights will be granted to the PhilanthroPhotos corporation.


The final product is a social good and will be marketed as such. One consumer behavior study conduced by Cone showed “cause-related marketing can exponentially increase sales, in one case as much as 74 percent, resulting in millions of dollars in potential revenue for brands.” According to the study, Americans want more cause marketing: 83% of Americans said that they wish more of the products, services and retailers they used would support causes.

Additionally, cause-marketing increases value. One in five consumers will pay more for a cause-related product. A cause will prompt 61% to try a product they’ve never heard of. And a great majority (80%) of consumers say they would switch to a brand that supports a cause when price and quality are equal. [Thanks to Selfish Giving for the great summary.]

Certificate of charitable authenticity, social branding, and other strategies employed through cause marketing will be utilized. Ideal consumers will be interested in the product because of its social mission and because the product can be clearly displayed as a reminder of the charitable purchase.

Customers will be exposed to the prints and products through art galleries, coffee shops, word of mouth in the non-profit community, Internet advertizing, and other sources of advertisements.

The Current Market / Competitors:

1) Similar products = Photo coffee table books

There are plenty of great travel photo coffee table books out there. National Geographic and Lonely Planet offer two of the most well known. PhilanthroPhotos products would distinguish themselves from this market through social advertizing and cause marketing

  • list of world photos through coffee table books:

  • Barnes and Noble page featuring coffee table books:

2) Similar cause marketing organizations

Many cause marketing organizations sell items ranging from t-shirts to bracelets to iPods.

3) Similar cross-over products

The one social-cause photo book that I know of is Blue Planet Run’s incredible coffee table book. They charge $30 for their book and still manage to donate proceeds to a terrific cause. (And what a cause it is.) I’m currently unsure about their exact expenses but I am looking into it.

PhilanthroPhotos will aim to eventually have similar distribution and cost-structure as the Blue Planet Run book, but will also offer printing, framing, and marketing services to amateur photographers in a way that allows them to “donate” their photographic art to a good cause. PhilanthroPhotos will distinguish itself from companies like Blue Planet Run by offering an additional service to budding photographers: the opportunity to distribute their art while participating in a social enterprise. In this way, PhilanthroPhotos will assist photographers in expanding exposure to their work, catalyze photographers’ ability to support non-profit organizations, and appeal to consumers that have charitable interests other than water scarcity.

Example Budget for Coffee Table Book Production:

PhotoBook Printing $35 per book (*PP will also seek in-kind donations to reduce this cost)
Charity GiftCard $15 per book
Production Total $50 per book
Website Maintenance $125 / yr e-commerce business account
Demo Samples $175 5 samples at $35 ea.
Direct Mailing Postcards (or other form of ads) $500 Estimates for 1000 postcards w/ mailing
Advertising Total $800
Photo Contest $500 Prize money for talent recruitment
Legal filings $500 501(c)3 fees, state fees, other forms
Website Design $500
Product design $200 Involves designing photo products
PO Box $50 / yr
Start Up Costs Total $1250
Total Not-Production Costs $2050 Advertising + Talent + Start-up

For 250 books, the non-production costs will equal $2050 / 250 = $8.20 per book, suggesting a total price of around $60 to the consumer. With other revenue sources, including prints and other photo products, the non-production costs (e.g. advertising) will be distributed across products and therefore may decrease the price to consumers.

According to this budget, if 250 books can be sold at $60, then PhilanthroPhotos will break even and $3,750 will be donated to charities.  With further research, PhilanthroPhotos believes that it can decrease the total cost of production (therefore decreasing costs to consumers) and increase the volume of sales.

Other ideas for consideration (An open bleg to all opinionated readers):

  • Themed photo books? (e.g. Southwestern landscape, Yale University, forestry)
  • Other photo products? (e.g. calendars, mugs, posters, stretched canvas, coasters)
  • Art other than photographer? (e.g. paintings, graphic art)
  • Corporate sponsors? Subtle ads or a Sponsorship page printed in each book?
  • “Featured cause” pages (informational pages on global issues within each book)
  • Connect with college networks (as a fundraiser program)
  • Recruit local sponsors for in-kind donations to reduce production costs?
  • Limit contributing photographers to amateurs? students? locals? professionals?
  • Better tagline?

A Gathering of Great Minds

December 4, 2009

A little over two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend Acumen Fund‘s Investor Gathering – a quazi-shareholder-meeting for a non-profit organization which works to use entrepreneurial approaches to solve the problems of poverty.  It was a true honor to be in the same room as successful entrepreneurs, passionate donors, the hard-working Acumen staff, and active friends of the patient capitalism cause.

The morning kicked off with  “deep dive discussions.” The topics included Building Healthcare Systems for Low-Income Customers, Talent for the Social Enterprise Sector, Crossroads Pakistan: Emerging Opportunities, and the discussion I attended:

Innovations in Water and Sanitation.
It’s easy to talk about the importance of water; it’s harder to pose a solution that remedies the enormous lack of access to this basic human resource. Overcoming the challenge of a sustainable (clean!) water supply takes creative thinkers that fight the status quo and seek new means for the provision of basic needs.   The leaders of the conversation were just those people.

Moderated by Acumen Fund Ripple Effect Project Manager Sangeeta Chowdhry, the discussion featured:

  • David Kuria (Founder and CEO of Ecotact which builds and operates high-quality “ikotoilet” and shower facilities inKenya. He was also a winner of the Africa Regional Entrepreneur of the Year in 2009.)
  • Sanjay Bhantagar (CEO of WaterHealth International which provides safe drinking water for more than 300,000 customers per year.)
  • Marc Manara (the Water Portfolio manager of Acumen Fund)

Hearing from the leaders in the field was incredible.  I remember thinking “If everyone heard their message, people would be throwing money at them.”  More than once, I felt the enthusiasm and passion that drove these projects and wanted to jump up and demonstrate my support.  (And this was about sanitation!)

The classic argument that water is a basic human right and should be provided free by the government can make market-oriented approaches like Ecotact and WHI difficult.  The truth, however, is that 1 billion people still lack access to safe drinking water and 2.5 billion lack access to hygienic toilets. There is an economic cost of water purification and someone has to pay: public or private. Frankly, the public system is broken and not adequately addressing the problem at hand.

Businesses like WHI and Ecotact have demonstrated how effective market forces can be in expanding access to basic services.  They have proven that even impoverished populations will pay for quality products when made available and therefore

An example of one of Ecotact's Ikotoilets

these markets can help in promoting social justice.  Where the public sector fails, social enterprise can kick it up a notch to get things done and push public interventions to improve.

Following the morning discussions, multiple Acumen Fund leaders and friends took the stage to provide updates on the progress of the patient capitalism ideas, sharing lots of on-the-field stories.  I’ll summarize a few of my favorite speeches:

Keynote by Arif Naqvi – Founder and CEO of Abraaj Capital: When the leader of the largest private equity firm in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia kicks off an event; you know something big is happening.  Naqvi provided an eloquent speech, describing the future of socially-responsible investing.  This is not just a current trend, but a revolutionized way of combining business and philanthropy to shape the next era of global development.

Portfolio Update by Acumen Fund CIO Brian Trelstad: I admit I was confused when Brian began his speech with a story about 17th century pilgrims and his family lineage.  After a few slides, however, the point became clear.  It turns out that the Acumen Fund is a lot like Brian’s great-great grandfather (or twice-removed uncle? I forget the actual relationship): they are both pioneers.  The idea of “blended value” seeks to achieve both financial sustainability and big social returns in the long run by evaluating both financial and social profits.  Has it worked?  It’s too soon to tell.  But the excitement from the audience was clear and the general vibe: optimistic.  Brian gave a comprehensive update on the Fund’s 33 investments and the future possibilities in consideration.  The majority of investees are performing well and the future looks bright.

Bringing Clean Energy to Low-Income Consumers- From Vision to D.light: One of Acumen Fund’s investees, D.light, serves as a paragon of social innovation.  Its creators identified a major problem: low-income families rely on expensive and

D.Light allows families to have safe lighting during the night

A woman cooks under D.light's design, instead of using a kerosene lamp.

dangerous kerosene lamps for basic lighting at night.  To address this issue, two Stanford grad students (including speaker Sam Goldman) designed a very simple, very inexpensive solar powered light source targeted at developing communities.  Now, for $10, families can purchase a sustainable solution for their poor lighting needs.  Children can read at night, mothers can cook without fear of knocking over flammable gas, and families can depend on the light for the long-term as it recharges on its own.

Want to bring real change for your dollar?  $10 provides clean energy to the bottom of the economic pyramid.  Think what can be done when other innovations provide similar simple solutions for other major problems:  straws to purify water, cooking stoves that stop indoor air pollution, micro-drip irrigation systems to grow crops in drought.  This is social entrepreneurship. This the future of poverty alleviation and the Acumen Fund and companies like it are leading the way.

Building a Global Community: When Sasha Dichter took the stage, he did something I have never seen a Director of Development do: ask for money.  Albeit, I don’t come across lots of Development directors, but his speech was genuine.  He was not requesting donations, but was instead asking the audience to continue their support in a partnership dedicated to seeking solutions to poverty problems.  His manifesto should be read by everyone.

And, of course, the Acumen Fund Fellows: a truly impressive bunch.  Taking the stage with a truly theatrical entrance, the Fellows provided inspirational quotes in their native languages and proceeded to offer brief monologues demonstrating their passion for the cause.  These are the  leaders of social enterprise today (go check them out!).

To find out more about the Acumen Fund, check out this video: it summarizes all you need to know about the organization and in only 90 seconds:

Acumen Fund: Training the Next Generation of Leaders

July 28, 2009

Earlier this summer, 17 students from across the US and around the world came together in New York City to talk about one thing: social entrepreneurship. I was privileged to participate in the Acumen Fund‘s inaugural Student Leaders Workshop and the experience was insightful, exciting, and humbling all at once.

While the workshop focused on poverty alleviation and development through “patient capitalism,” many of the lessons I took away from the program have significant implications for all things public health. (It seems, after all, the more public health courses I take, the more I recognize the importance of well-structured, well-managed, sustainable interventions that truly address the needs of the people served.) The solution? More focus on market mechanisms.

While market mechanisms may not work for everything (read: health care in the US), there is definitely something to say for the empowerment of the underserved by supporting a long-lasting business economy, not providing charity and aid alone. Organizations like Kiva, Ashoka, Skoll Foundation, Echoing Green, and Acumen Fund are recognizing the potential for growth, and “social returns” in a new and emerging market populus: the poor. By targeting the “base of the [economic] pyramid,” companies can find new opportunities for profit while including underserved populations in to the global economy. And not just as consumers, but producers too. It’s worth looking up if you haven’t done so before. Check out #socent on Twitter if you really want to see what’s going on.

Our student group was also fortunate enough to hear the enthusiastic words of buisinessman marketing guru, best-selling author, and activist Seth Godin. He offered a lot if interesting wisdom and a challenge to young students to fight against the status quo and truly make a difference in the world. One of his pearls worth listening to: “Don’t go to medical school.”

The group of passionate, out-spoken, intelligent students (of whom I came across clearly by mistake) came to the workshop each offering their unique skills, vision, and ideals. Each left with enthusiasm to continue the work of creating positive social change and each left with a determination to continue the push for a social movement to end global poverty.

Currently, the group is working on developing a new product that will help spread awareness for the ideas of social entrepreneurship in bringing about change in poverty alleviation, health, and sustainable energy. Additionally, a viral film is in production to bring people together from all over the world to see what changes can be made through social enterprise (Find out more here or get involved here)

Let’s get to work.

Enter Justin.

July 21, 2009

I never thought I would join the Blogging revolution; yet somehow, here I am.

I hope that this guy will help me record and develop ideas and opinions and get some feedback from other people interested in the field. I really hope to get people to add, comment on, and challenge any original ideas that I post. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

“Change for $1” will, ideally, focus on ideas of social enterprise, philanthropcapitalism, development, and all those new buzz words that use the power of market mechanisms to provide social profit.

A short list of some of the topics I hope to write on:

  • A “manifesto” on using market mechanisms for poverty alleviation (as suggested by Seth Godin)
  • The philosophy of social justice and its ties with global development and poverty
  • Using consumer power for a good cause (especially the ideas of “Carrotmob” and programs like GoodSearch)
  • The Importance of Student Activism
  • Investigating the Role of Corporate Social Responsibility and Socially Responsible Investing
  • The “uncharitable” barriers of the non-profit sector
  • The ties between public health and market mechanisms
  • Related book reviews and musings

Let’s get to work.