During my (many!) years of running a photography business, I have always made a point to support a charity that’s close to my heart by providing my services pro bono. Typically, I have an organization that I’m working with at any given time, and when it’s right, for many years. Like many who share this view, I feel it provides balance in my life, and I walk the world knowing my talents are contributing toward the fulfillment of a chosen organization’s mission. Or, maybe it’s more selfish than that – maybe it just makes me feel great inside.
A significant part of my business is with attorneys and law firms, and as a result, I’m closely tied to the Hillsborough County Bar Association, serving as their photography benefit provider for the last bunch of years. I got a call from Corrie Benfield, Marketing Director at the HCBA one day last year telling me they’d referred me to Bay Area Legal Services, who’d called them to get a referral for a photographer. Alexandra Crews emailed me as well and we talked the same day about what BALS does. As Alex says it, “The rest is history.”
We quickly set up our first photo shoot, which produced enough solid imagery for them to populate their updated website (not yet published as of this writing) and flagship brochure, blast out through all social media outlets, produce posters for public events, as well as a series of prints that they just hung up in their uber cool office spaces in Ybor City. It was maybe 3-4 weeks later I arrived at BALS’ main office in Ybor to shoot a video of one of their clients providing his testimonial of how BALS rescued him and his family from a life of debt, foreclosure and even divorce. During my 200 foot walk through the offices, I kept hearing this whisper: “This is the photographer who did those pictures!” I noticed. Then there’s Rose Brempong, the queen of sincere praise and acknowledgement, who came into the room and hugged me and thanked me no less than 6 times for the work I did and its impact on their ability to say who they are and what they do. Then Dick Woltmann, the CEO of BALS, stopped by to shake my hand and thank me, thank me, thank me.
It was truly during the live video shoot of the BALS client that I got hit right in the heart by this lovely man who was laying his heart and life on the line with his story. I was tearing up during the actual shoot (I wasn’t the only one!) and it was then I was hooked. I am now an advocate, loudspeaker, and proponent for this amazing group of professionals who help good people who have hit some tough circumstances get through the most challenging times of their lives, and most importantly, in a way that preserves their dignity and restores their personal power. I’ve seen it several times now. I’m all in.
Not to kick a dead horse here, but then I received a persistent and loving invitation to BALS’ annual Holiday Party at the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City. Almost suspiciously, Rose and Alex made darn sure for weeks that my wife Kim and I (my son was also invited but couldn’t attend) were going to attend. We were seated at a table up front and were happy to just be there in such a lovely setting. When the event began, my jaw hit the floor when I realized that the opening remarks, which lasted for 5-10 minutes were a presentation of the video we did for them, followed by more praise and recognition than I think I’ve ever received for anything I’ve ever done, complete with a presentation of a gorgeous trophy! Shocked doesn’t even come close to describing how that felt. But ‘full of love and appreciation’ does.
So what’s the point here? If you’re working pro bono for a client, and you don’t know in your heart of hearts that what you’re doing is a difference maker for that organization, it may be time to find another outlet for your generosity. But mostly I think the point is that pro bono work should make you feel great, and make the organization you’re serving feel even better. Right Alex, right Rose? THAT’s what pro bono is all about, at least through this photographer’s lens.