In 2007 my company, Life's Images, produced our first annual Hope Calendar™ for charity. We raised more than four thousand dollars for the local children's hospital and generated priceless marketing opportunities for my photography business. Quite simply, the Hope Calendar is a 12 month wall calendar featuring photos of local children. I photographed them, produced the calendar, sold it and donated the money to the chosen charity.
Of course what sounds simple seldom turns out that way! There were stumbling blocks I wish I'd avoided on the way. My brainstorm was for a win-win situation with the charity I had teamed up with; I could raise money for them and increase exposure for myself. I wanted to involve the community by featuring area children, and get local businesses to sponsor us. Rather than using my current clients for the project, the calendar began with a model call. All community families were invited to apply. This stage of production lent itself well to media releases, and we garnered a front page feature story in two weekly newspapers. I asked selected models to make a small donation in lieu of a session fee to help fund the calendar.
Next I had to find the money to actually print the calendar. I negotiated printing costs with an online print shop, and local businesses (when asked) donated to the cause in exchange for "thank you" ads within the calendar. I agreed to design these ads for most of them, which made it easier for them to say yes. In fact I'd say this is the bulk of your role as a fundraiser-people will be charitable and generous, but they are busy, so you must get to the point when communicating, and make it easy for them to participate.
Production of the calendar required editing of the images and building the calendar pages with business appreciation ads. Each image was marked discreetly with copyright and website information for Life's Images, and the calendar was printed in October. Announcing the availability of the calendar was another opportunity for media releases, actually a necessity, as each sale directly impacted the final donation amount.
I built the www.hopecalendar.com website with a payment system to allow for online sales. I also asked local store owners to offer the calendars, and community volunteers also assisted with sales. The businesses also spread the word on their own websites and newsletters. The project raised $4,200 for its first donation, yet another prime topic for press releases.
It felt great to make that donation knowing that one person with little experience in fundraising, new to the community, but full of passion and hard work could make a difference. The Hope Calendar was truly a community project, as its success was based largely on the efforts of the participating families, volunteers and business owners who took part out of love for the charity and children. Beyond the marketing and publicity opportunities, experiencing the generosity and faith in people at every stage reminded me why I love photographing people in the first place.
CREATING BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES
Having relocated my business just one year earlier, the Hope Calendar played a vital role in gaining awareness and a strong foothold in a new market. It offered great opportunities for press that were much more interesting to news sources than any grand opening. I received press for each stage of the project.
The calendar itself provides an additional and powerful source of marketing and branding. There were 1,000 calendars in the area, many hanging in local stores, each containing my contact information and a prominent example of my work on display. The project also lends credibility to my status as a professional. I think it instills a picture of a business-woman involved in her community, capable of getting results, competent in her craft. I even gained the support and faith of fellow business owners-several charities and businesses contacted me this year to work with the calendar.
In its Second Year
The 2nd annual calendar has just begun. Of course this article is too short to detail every aspect of the calendar production (including the misadventures along the way), so if you're interested in pursuing a project like this, visit www.hopecalendar.com/photographers, for more details.
Debi Gomez is the owner of Life's Images Photography (www.lifesimages.com) in Houston, Texas. In business since 2001, she specializes in B&W newborn and maternity portraits. In 2007 she began publishing the Hope Calendar (www.hopecalendar.com), generating funds for local charities and a great deal of buzz about her business.