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?

Spotlight Charity: VillageReach

January 23, 2011

One of my more popular posts focused on an extraordinary organization, charity:water. I wanted to bring some attention to another group of people that are doing amazing things (and achieving tremendous results): VillageReach. They build medical infrastructure in underserved areas of Africa to ensure delivery of vaccines, medicines, and technology to overcome the “last mile challenges” of delivering  innovations that will benefit the world’s poor.

The Problem
More than 2.4 million children die annually from vaccine-preventable diseases. Families living in rural areas of developing countries lack the medical infrastructure to deliver essential medicines, transport equipment, or provide these life-saving vaccines. Challenges include: maintaining a cold supply chain to keep vaccines from spoiling, optimizing inventory management to prevent drug stock-outs, and overcoming physical and administrative obstacles that prevent delivery of medical supplies.

What They Do
VillageReach improves access to healthcare for remote, underserved communities around the world. In 2001, VillageReach launched their first initiative to ensure universal access to medical supplies in Mozambique. The VillageReach model is now being implemented in 251 health centers covering a population of over 5.2 million people. From their website:

VillageReach’s model improves access to healthcare by providing a logistics platform to facilitate delivery of medical supplies and by starting and managing social businesses to improve local infrastructure. Our solutions and programs are innovative, efficient, collaborative, and sustainable. By implementing its logistics platform through field programs, VillageReach has developed and refined a set of tools and methodologies to allow for efficient replication and customization of its model.

These tools include a management information system (vrMIS) to track inventory of medicines and equipment and generate accurate, updated information about the needs of individual health centers and the communities they serve. This information enables medical supply distribution systems to increase their efficiency and become more effective in reducing diseases and death rates among the world’s most underprivileged.

Check out one of their videos:

The Results They Achieve / GiveWell
GiveWell, an organization that seeks to determine the most efficient way to donate your money (and possesses a very clever tagline) has done a comprehensive analysis of VillageReach’s programs and has determined that they have achieved an impact at under $1000 per infant death inverted. In fact, after reviewing over 400 charities (and recommending less than 3%), GiveWell has ranked VillageReach as the #1-rated charity, achieving the highest ranks in evidence of effectiveness, cost-effectiveness, funding gap, transparency, and monitoring & evaluation programs.

Remember Ken Jennings? He was the Jeopardy champion that holds the record for the longest winning streak. Well, he’s going toe-to-toe with an IBM computer on Jeopardy on February 14 and guess what charity he is supporting: VillageReach.

More info
Somewhat related, there is an incredible TEDTalk by Sendhil Mullainathan on “Solving social problems with a nudge.” It highlights the importance of behavioral economics in solving social challenges and how the “last mile challenge” can be turned into “last mile opportunities.”

Find out more about the organization and donate here.

PhilanthroPhotos: Intro

January 6, 2011

I’ve been working on my first real entrepreneurial pet project.  In attempt to gain some feedback, I’m gonna post a comprehensive business plan in the next couple of days. In the meantime, I thought I’d post the initial idea in much shorter form, in hopes of gaining some criticisms, some suggestions, and initial thoughts from potential consumers (or contributors): you.

PhilanthroPhotos: Art. For a cause.

PhilanthroPhotos will be a non-profit photography business that will catalyze photographers’ ability to support charitable causes. Contributing photographers (amateur or professional) will “donate” non-exclusive rights to their photographs to be printed, framed, marketed, and developed into a range of photo products (e.g. coffee table books, calendars, coasters, stretched canvas). Ideal contributors may be amaetur photographers that have spectacular photographs, but would otherwise not seek to sell or market them because of the expense of time and money.

Where does the philanthropy part come in? Each product will include a GlobalGiving gift card that allows the consumer to donate to a cause of their choice. Additionally, PhilanthroPhotos can also partner with local NGOs and donate the charitable revenues directly to their organization.

The items will be cause-marketed as social goods: a way to add to the household decor, support budding artists, and donate to a charitable cause. A good example of a similar product: the incredible Blue Planet Run coffee table book.

Kiva, Zombies, and The End of Charity

November 13, 2009

1) Kiva News
has been getting knocked around in the past month as it was recently reported that your $25 doesn’t actually go to that bike mechanic in India.  Instead, he already received a loan and your $25 goes to a a bigger pool that supports microfinance organization partners.  There is a good summary article from New York Review of Books blog (featuring a quick interview with my hero, Nicholas Kristof) right here.

My thoughts: Kiva’s marketing as donations to individuals is clearly a  gimmick.  So is just about any “adopt-a-child” program.  But these gimmicks have popularized microfinance and philanthropy in an ethical (and transparent if you read the fine print) way.  These are not weaknesses, but strengths in mobilizing consumers to get aboard the social enterprise bandwagon.

2) How Zombies Can Destroy the World
I just discovered the Zombie Research Society and their blog: they have some really interesting posts.  In all seriousness, it is great to see insightful writings that analyze the crossover of practical public health concerns and the upcoming zombie apocalypse — a great interdisciplinary approach to discussing important issues of pandemic.

3) I could not have said it better.
In an impressively well-written article from the Philadelphia Social Innovations Journal, David E. K. Hunter eloquently explains what is wrong with the nonprofit sector.  It perfectly explains my bias toward social investing over traditional charity. The author focuses on three main unpleasant truths:

Unpleasant truth number 1: While nonprofits work incredibly hard, with passion and dedication, and often in incredibly difficult circumstances to solve society’s most intractable problems, there is virtually no credible evidence that most nonprofit organizations actually produce any social value.

Unpleasant truth number 2: Because so few nonprofits are willing to face this fact and ask themselves whether they are doing any good at all, or even as much good as they may be doing harm, we cannot rely on direct service nonprofits to fix themselves without a serious push.

Unpleasant truth number 3: In general, nonprofits do what their funders tell them to do. When funders make demands, more often than not the vision, mission, goals and objectives of nonprofit organizations give way. As the saying goes, We are what we eat. . . . and most nonprofits are what their funders make them.


November 11, 2009

I recently wrote a post on 25 Ways to Spend $25, but the idea of “philanthroconsumerism” is worth writing on again.  (I’m surprised that word hasn’t been coined or used more often — it has zero results on Google.)

There are a lot of ways to use market mechanisms for social impact: microfinance, social venture capital, impact investing, corporate social responsibility, and social businesses.  But many of these programs depend on large multinational corporations (or small-to-medium size enterprises) to lead the charge for market-based solutions to social problems.  There are smaller players, however, who are often overlooked.  Consumers.

Any product purchase is like an economic vote for what consumers demand.  Consumers can  “vote” to move all VHSs to DVD format, they can “vote” to increase the production of furbys, and they can “vote” to force social responsibility to play a larger role in the economy.  There are a lot of promising candidates on the ballot of your local supermarket.  Here are a few of my favorite items that not only rock, but encourage social responsibility and deserve your vote:

1) TOMS Shoes (now featured in the AT&T commercial) — buy a pair of now-trendy shoes and they send a pair to kids in Africa.

2) Tide’s Loads of Hope — buy a pair of specially marked laundry detergent and donate to help provide clean clothes and comfort to families affected by disaster.

3) Starbuck’s Product(RED) Gift Cards — donate 5 cents to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS for every transaction made with the gift card.

4) Pink Ribbon Products — they are all over the place.  Many manufacturers have partnered with breast cancer research organizations and make donations for each product they sell that features the pink ribbon.

5) Pamper’s One Pack = One Vaccine — UNICEF and Pamper’s have teamed up to prove that even when buying poop-disposal-apparel, you can contribute to a cause.  Each purchase of a diaper pack also covers the cost of a vaccine to be distributed in the developing world.

For further reading, there is also a great (and critical) article from the Stanford Social Innovation Review on the Hidden Costs of Cause Marketing.  There’s definitely a risk for the perversion of cause marketing, e.g. Fiji Water.  The philanthropic power of the consumer, however, must continue to play a role in the future of social innovation.

25 Ways to Use $25.

October 28, 2009

Have $25 in your wallet?  Here are a few things that you can get for your money–all under $25:

  1. A $25 Kiva Loan to help entrepreneurs in developing countries
  2. A $25 investment microloan at, which earns interest
  3. 132 packets of Ramen noodles (maybe more)
  4. 2 malaria bednets
  5. Teach 15 Afghan women to read
  6. One session of chemotherapy for a poor patient with eye cancer in India
  7. A Starbucks Project(Red) Water Bottle ($1 goes to Africa)
  8. 2 movie tickets to go see Zombieland
  9. Irrigate a farmer’s land for 2 months
  10. Buy “My Learning Cloth Clown Doll” on (check out the link — lots of social and economic impact from one simple purchase)
  11. Provide a year of primary school education for a girl who has been rescued from virtual slavery
  12. Pay for half of a cataract surgery to cure blindness in Africa at Unite for Sight
  13. Pay for about half of a Yale hoodie
  14. A 4-pack of Tom’s of Maine Cleansing Mouthwash, Spearmint (reviewed at
  15. A cooking stove for displaced women
  16. 2 of 3 life-changing books: Half the Sky, The Blue Sweater, Mountains Beyond Mountains
  17. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince DVD (2-disc Limited Edition)
  18. A school meal program for one child.
  19. A disease prevention kit for families after a natural disaster.
  20. The entire Taylor Swift discography (almost).
  21. 0.54 shares of the stock KLD (KLD’s select social index ETF – basically, a group of socially-responsible companies)
  22. About 10 gallons of gasoline.
  23. Two large pizzas.
  24. Provide a classroom blackboard in Zambia.
  25. Provide one day of food for 50 survivors at a disaster relief facility.

There are lots of good ways to spend $25.  To be quite honest, putting this list together will likely make me a little more thoughtful next time I drop $20.

What’s your favorite way to spend $25?

SPOTLIGHT CHARITY: charity:water

October 22, 2009

Sad statistics get really boring after a while.

Half the world lives on less than $2 day. There are 10 new cases of malaria every second.  One in 12 people in the world are malnourished. We hear truly jaw-dropping facts all the time yet few individuals are truly motivated to rally for a cause.

So how can someone make a real difference? Inefficient aid bureaucracies, ubiquitous corruption, and ineffective organizations make sure that every donated dollar gets farther away from making any real impact.

Charity needs a re-branding phase and get ready, it’s starting to take form. The leading pioneer (and recipient of my Spotlight Charity award):  charity:water, an organization that brings clean water to people in developing nations. Charity:water does one thing, and it does it well: it tells a story.

Why charity:water Rocks
1) 100% of every donated dollar directly funds water projects
All administrative costs are already covered by a partnership with top donors (apparently known as “the well”). Every donated penny is directly outsourced to partnered programs that then build the pumps. Therefore, any donor’s qualms about overhead costs are straight-up bogus–you’ll have to come up with a new excuse not to donate.

2) They market like a successful business should.
Check out their website–it’s truly incredible and has some great visuals that get their message across:

They also have AMAZING videos.

New York Times columnist and personal hero, Nicholas Kristof went so far to say, “Any brand of toothpaste is peddled with far more sophistication than the life-saving work of aid groups.” And he’s right. One of the most significant problems of charities is an idea that a social mission absolves their organizations from managerial or marketing skills. It doesn’t!

3) They’re hip.
Charity:water utilizes social networking resources better than an emo high-schooler looking for new friends. The organization raised over $250,000 through the Twitter Twestival event and has well over a million Twitter followers. (In case you haven’t jumped on the Twitter bandwagon yet: that’s a lot of followers. To compare, the American Red Cross has around 26,000, or 2% of C:W).

5) They’re creative.
And not just in their graphic design. Check out their new community page that allows fans to run marathons, grow beards, and give up birthday presents to increase support for their organization. Their September birthday campaign raised over $1 million itself, providing clean water to more than 500,000 people.

4) Donors see the difference.
Every time charity:water funds a new well, the group takes photos and uploads them with GPS coordinates to a Google map so you can see your contribution at work.

Charity:water officially wins the inaugural *Berk Outstanding Achievement Award* for excellent marketing, efficient allocation of donor funds, and providing an effective solution to one of the world’s greatest public health crises. Congratulations to them.

And to readers: check out the SocialVibe banner to the right; watch a sponsor’s commercial and help support the C:W cause.  Any nominees for future award considerations?