Recently, a friend of mine showed me a GoFundMe campaign by a photographer and asked my opinion. I had been thinking about writing about this topic for a while, so here we are. I ended up spending way too much time perusing GoFundMe campaigns but it was illuminating.
First, if you have never heard of it, GoFundMe is a crowdfunding website where people can raise money for themselves (you do not need a business idea like on Kickstarter). Most people use it for to raise money for challenging circumstances (accident, illness) or life events.
There is, however, a trend among photographers to use it to buy gear. Yes, you have read that right. I typed “photography gear” in the GoFundMe search and I got 400+ results. While some of them are not related to photography, I’d say at least 60% of the results are people who want to buy photography gear.
So let’s dive into the types of photographers who crowdfund their gear.
The “I-don’t-have-insurance” photographer
There are so many people who use GoFundMe because their gear was stolen, it’s depressing. It’s almost always from their car. People, GET INSURANCE! It’s easy, it’s not that expensive, and it will prevent you from looking like a fool on a crowdfunding website.
Now, I get that – once it has happened – people are legitimately in a bad place and might not have the money to replace the gear. Then, be HUMBLE. Please don’t ask for $15,000 (I’m not even joking). You screwed up, own it and do not ask other people to pay for all of your gear.
You do not need a D810 to start shooting again. Start with a cropped sensor, a couple of cheap lenses and build from that. Oh, and GET INSURANCE! Not a single GoFundMe campaign I read even mentioned insurance.
The “invest-in-my-business-with-no-returns” photographer
I was stunned to find several campaigns from people who want to start a photography business. They ask for your money to start their business and offer nothing in return. In the “real world”, when a start-up gets funding, the investor gets equity in the company, royalties from the sales or interests from a loan.
If you are asking for up to $50,000 (again, not a joke) to start a business, you need to offer a return. Most people ask for more reasonable amounts, that could easily be borrowed (from a friend, a bank or a credit card). But if you really want $4,000, then I’ll get them to you for a 75% equity stake in your business, after I make sure you have the business and photography skills to be successful.
When you say “I would then have to run my life and business as a strictly money-making venture, something I hope never to do as I wouldn’t want to lose the integrity of my work in order to always be chasing money”, what you really mean is “please pay me so I don’t have to actually work”. Life doesn’t work that way. If you just want to make art, get a day job and shoot on evenings and weekends.
The “I-screwed-up-please-save-me” photographer
From “My money was stolen” to “I’m flat broke”, photographers have many excuses to ask for money to buy gear. If your business is not making money, do not blame your clients, your ex-girlfriend and your family (again, a real campaign). If you screwed up, own it.
Do not say “I need the money I’m asking for or I will have to […] get some kind of full-time job killing my dreams and wasting my talent.” If you cannot make money with photography, go get another job first. Then spend your nights and weekends getting better and finding clients until you can make the transition to a full-time photography career.
The “I-just-want-new-gear” photographer
And then, you have the photographers who just want new gear but cannot afford it. They will give you excuses like “my skills have surpassed the level of my camera” or even “we’d like to invite our community to share the cost” so you pay for their gear.
Professional photography gear is expensive. But you know what? You don’t need it to make money! For about a year, I shot commercial architecture with a 3-year-old APS-C Nikon camera and one wide-angle lens. No full-frame, no tilt-shift, not f/2.8. Guess what? I’m now making enough money so can start purchasing more expensive equipment.
Dos and Don’ts for your GoFundMe campaign
In my mind, there’s almost no reason to ever do a GoFundMe campaign to buy gear. But I understand that sometimes things actually happen and it might be your last resort. In that case, be considerate and follow these dos and don’ts:
- Don’t just ask for money
- Offer substantial rewards
- Don’t ask people to fund your business without returns
- Be humble
- Don’t ask people to replace 100% of your stolen gear
- Use the money for basic equipment, you can upgrade later
- Don’t ask for ridiculous amounts of money
- Own your mistakes and do part of the work yourself
- Don’t call your campaign “Gear Fund”
- Use the money for equipment you absolutely need
Remember: you are asking for charity. People will only donate if they find your cause worthwhile. Here are some things that will definitely turn people off:
- “My hope is to better my photography skills with the addition of new gear”
- In a campaign update: “I got a few new pieces to fix up my kitchen but could really use some new lenses.”
- “If I am able to exceed my goal I plan to use the extra money to take my grandmother on a Hawaiian vacation”
- “Of course the more you give the faster I’ll reach my goal and recover.”
Disclaimer: I am not in any way against the concept of GoFundMe. It has been an invaluable tool for many people in dire situations due to accidents and illnesses. I find it sad to see photographers misuse it to buy gear.