I am a 43yo photographer working on the west coast for nearly two decades. I often receive requests from nonprofits to photograph for a discount or to “volunteer my time,” aka shooting for free. I have yet to take a gig without pay, and I still stay very busy.
Look into the company. Ask them what other vendors are volunteering their time or offering what discounts? Chances are they are paying for a venue, food, bar, mc, a/v, etc. There is a *big difference* between supporting a local non-profit or start-up that you believe in or benefits your community directly with a discounted rate, or, say, a free hour of your time after booking x amount of hours, as opposed to offering that same deal for a national company that pays their CEOs huge or doesn’t have the best track record. Personally, when I am passionate about a nonprofit, I offer to volunteer or help in other non-photo related ways. It keeps me grounded and I like the separation from photography work.
True story: another photographer called me the day before his nonprofit event asking if I could shoot for him because he was injured. He casually said the rate was $250 for a couple of hours documenting some kids for a nonprofit. I countered with a higher offer, wanting to help him in a tight situation, but still making it worth my time. Turned out it was the client’s yearly fundraiser event, $$$-per plate luncheon, formal attire, raffle tickets costing more than what they were paying me, and the org raised loads of money in 45 minutes. They treated me poorly, I wasn’t paid on time, and when I was, the check bounced, which is a career first for me. Pure madness…
This brings me to my second point: please be transparent with other photographers/creatives when you ask for their assistance. What I thought would be me covering children in our community event turned out to be so much more in scope, and I had to compartmentalize my anger the entire time I was there. In the end, it was my fault for not clarifying what was actually transpiring at the shoot because I was busy when he contacted me. Have I learned a lesson here? Definitely.
You can be friendly and still require fairness in business. Pick up the phone and ask questions. Above all, know that it is okay to say no to shooting (true scenario) a 3-hr cocktail, black-tie affair for a national nonprofit you’ve definitely heard of at my city’s most-expensive venue for FREE and instead, take the night off or work for a different client. Your mental health will thank you.