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Best of 2010 - Burk Jackson


While laid up with a back injury, photographer Burk Jackson realized that a simple idea could have a powerful impact. His idea: pair a volunteering creative artist with a cause in need of imagery and marketing support. Launched this year with a small core of devoted members, the fledgling organization CreativeCares now acts as a matchmaker between nonprofits and a roster of 40 creatives, including photographers, filmmakers and public relations experts. Their projects to date-such as Rebuilding Together Portland and Disability Aid Abroad-have enabled nonprofits to tell their stories, connect with donors and expand their reach.

Burk Jackson/Creative Cares, Portland, OR

Web site: www.creativecares.org

Project: CreativeCares is a nonprofit connecting organizations needing images with like-minded photographers for pro-bono work.

© Burk Jackson/Creative Cares
All images in this article © Burk Jackson/Creative Cares.

ASMP: How long have you been in business?
BJ/CC:
I’ve been a professional photographer now for about a decade.

ASMP: How long have you been an ASMP member?
BJ/CC:
I’ve been a General member since 2003 and have been involved with the ASMP Oregon board for 5 years. I was chapter co-president for three years and also served as program chair and membership chair.

ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?
BJ/CC:
People photography has always been my passion. Beyond that, as the photographic climate changed, the studio I operated moved into product and lifestyle for e-commerce as a main focus before last year’s economic shift.

© Burk Jackson/Creative Cares

ASMP: Please describe the processes and techniques central to the making of this work.
BJ/CC:
Finding out what interests and motivates people is key to making a photo with value.

ASMP: What do you consider your most valuable piece of equipment?
BJ/CC:
All my material equipment is simply a tool for a result. The desire to make something I would look at is the most valuable asset I have. I do shoot Canon gear and love it, though…

ASMP: As a photographer, what is unique about your style and approach or what sets you and your work apart from others?
BJ/CC:
I think a personal connection to the subject, combined with integrity, is the key to achieving a great shot. I don’t feel this sets me apart from other photographers, it’s simply my personal ideal.

© Burk Jackson/Creative Cares

ASMP: Tell us about Creative Cares and how and when you came to start this initiative. What is your background in regard to fundraising and nonprofit work?
BJ/CC:
CreativeCares is a nonprofit that matches the creative community with causes they care about. Our mission is to help nonprofit organizations tell their story, broaden their reach, and communicate their mission. We do so by matching the creative community with organizations in need-locally, regionally and globally.

We act as a matchmaking service between creatives and organizations striving for social change in their communities and around the world. We are a resource that provides access and funding assistance to both the creative community and organizations and, through that, we are able to bring about a greater good through creativity.

With the economic downturn last year and some success prior to that, last summer I decided to take some time off to spend with my kids. The day after I moved out of my studio, July 7, 2009, I ended up rupturing a disc in my lower back and was laid up for five months. During my recovery, I got to thinking about what really motivated me. I’d done work with the Heart Gallery for years, photographing hard-to-adopt orphans, and there was a young girl that I had worked with a year before. She was wonderful, but scared. I could see in her eyes that she didn’t know who she would be calling “Mom” or where she would be living at any given moment. It was a challenging shoot for me, emotionally and technically, but we finally got a great shot of her. All it took was a few hours of my life to possibly have a tremendous effect on hers. Reflecting back on that was what started the whole process — that someone doing what they love, in my case photography, could have a direct and profound effect on someone else’s life.

After my recovery from back surgery, I started calling and e-mailing different nonprofits around my hometown, offering to do photography for them. What I found was that most of the organizations I contacted didn’t have a clear idea of how to use the service I was offering. I felt there had to be a better way for photographers — and other creatives — to volunteer their time and effort. That’s when CreativeCares came to mind, the idea that through a gathering place of creatives willing to contribute and non-profits in need, the process could happen and everyone could benefit.

© Burk Jackson/Creative Cares

ASMP: Is Creative Cares a registered non-profit and, if so, what were the steps you took to achieve this status?
BJ/CC:
We are currently a 501(c)3 in process. We are currently working with an attorney to help us complete the necessary steps. It’s a lengthy and complicated process and, if done incorrectly, can be very detrimental to the growth of any organization.

ASMP: How does Creative Cares differ from other organizations connecting nonprofits with photographers and media journalists?
BJ/CC:
Our goal is to become a place where creatives and nonprofits find each other through common interests; a gathering place where the discussions can begin and projects can be created. I’ve reached out to organizations doing similar work and we’re currently discussing how to collaborate to best serve the creative and nonprofit communities.

Creative Cares is using Web-based tools to organize, collaborate and connect our creative talent and non-profits — we’re not unique in that, but it’s worth noting that what we are doing is powered by these tools — without them we would need a much bigger staff and it would take a lot more legwork.

© Burk Jackson/Creative Cares

ASMP: Please talk about the formation and structure of the organization’s board and any vision you have for how it might evolve in the future.
BJ/CC:
We’ve only been around a short time now and have a core board of three. This has been necessary while we complete the legal process of becoming a 501(c)3. I’ve been reaching out to individuals in different creative mediums to come onto our board long term, to represent different facets of the creative industries, such as art directors, graphic designers, filmmakers and so on.

We’re currently building an advisory board whose mission is to help guide us in our growth and direction so that we are able to accurately represent both aspects — the creatives and the organizations.

© Burk Jackson/Creative Cares

ASMP: How many organizations has Creative Cares worked with to date? What has been the most extensive project undertaken?
BJ/CC:
We have ten organizations that have signed on with us and we are reaching out to more every week. We have a volunteer whose primary role is to find and contact non-profits that may be in need of creative services. Out of those ten, we’ve completed five projects so far this year. The most extensive project by far was the Disability Aid Abroad/Solar Hope project in Tanzania. We’ve also done regional projects with the Bus Project, Habitat for Humanity and Rebuilding Together Portland. One of our members is photographer Matt Brush — he did an amazing job documenting for Rebuilding Together Portland, where their goal was to repair and rehabilitate over 50 homes and non-profit community facilities in a single day.

© Burk Jackson/Creative Cares

ASMP: How many photographers are currently involved with Creative Cares’ projects? Are there specific criteria that a photographer or media journalist must meet in order to become involved?
BJ/CC:
We currently have 40 creatives signed up on the Web site. Most of them are photographers but there are also marketing people, filmmakers, and public relations professionals. We don’t have requirements to be part of CreativeCares; it’s our belief that if you sign up to be involved, you’re a part of our volunteer pool. The creative and the organization, once they meet and begin discussing the project, will naturally begin the vetting process as they decide to move forward or not. We want both parties to be responsible for the work they do together and the relationship they form. However, we are currently working on a template for the contract that both the creative and organization will sign so that everyone will know what they are responsible for and what’s being asked of them. A big concern for us is that there be clear and concise communication so there are as few unforeseen complications as possible.

© Burk Jackson/Creative Cares

ASMP: Please describe the screening process you use to match creative volunteers with organizations in need, including the volunteer’s interest in or experience with the cause, location and time frame.
BJ/CC:
Essentially, the matching happens based on skills, location, time commitment, and, most important, interest in a cause or mission. The volunteer’s interest in the cause is most important because if it’s something they are passionate about, it will be enjoyable and rewarding for them to do, not just another project.

ASMP: In addition to photographers, are there other creative professionals, such as designers or publicists, you enlist as participants in Creative Cares?
BJ/CC:
We began with photographers and filmmakers but have already gotten volunteers with different specialties. We would like to have strategists, project managers, marketing consultants, art directors, copywriters, graphic designers, Web developers, and other creatives be a part of our team because it takes creatives of all types to help fully realize a project.

To fully assist nonprofits in telling their story, it takes capabilities on a variety of levels to make things cohesive. The capacity for a nonprofit to be able to use photography and video may not already be implemented, in which case a team of people would decide to donate time on a long-term basis to develop what it is that the organization may need.

© Burk Jackson/Creative Cares

ASMP: Are there specific criteria or rules governing the selection of nonprofits that you choose to work with? Please talk about specific attributes that an organization should bring to the table.
BJ/CC:
First of all, the work has to be something that the volunteer is passionate about. Secondly, the organization must have the ability to use the work created for them or must be willing to grow into that capacity, so that the work created is worthwhile. Third, we believe that if we can empower nonprofits to tell their stories, expand their reach and connect with donors through the implementation of good creative services, their ability to better fulfill their mission increases dramatically. It’s the old analogy, “Give a man a fish, you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish and you have fed him for a lifetime”.

© Burk Jackson/Creative Cares

ASMP: Is there any kind of written agreement between the nonprofit and the photographer, or between photographers and Creative Cares?
BJ/CC:
Yes, We’re currently developing a boilerplate contract for the creatives and organizations to use. We believe it’s important that both parties adhere to a standard contract so everyone knows what’s expected, including timeframes, content, credit and anything else that either party may feel is appropriate.

Part of our foundation is to provide our nonprofits with a framework — to help them understand what it really means to work with creative services. Our goal is to help improve the process of working together for both parties. We understand that contracting a photographer for the first time can be a confusing and intimidating process and we hope to help everyone by making this process easier for organizations. For CreativeCares and our volunteers the process is straightforward, all the information we require is presented in the application page on our Web site.

© Burk Jackson/Creative Cares

ASMP: How are on-site decisions made related to specific projects? Does the creative volunteer share responsibility for decisions with an organization’s liaison or are decisions referred back to the CreativeCares officers or board of directors?
BJ/CC:
As professionals, we want to empower our volunteers to make the creative decisions based on their skills and their communication with the organization with which they are working. If there is a situation in which CreativeCares needs to get involved, we’re willing to do that to facilitate minimal complications, but we believe that, if given the opportunity, people will make good decisions. We are here to connect professionals-to-professionals.

ASMP: The Creative Cares Web site has a prominent link to encourage donations. Please talk about the organization’s fundraising component. How is this implemented and how successful has this been to date?
BJ/CC:
As a 501(c)3 in process, we are very limited in the types of grants and public funding we can receive. We depend primarily on individual public donations to help facilitate our cause. As far as success goes, I think our cause speaks to people. For example, my recent trip to Tanzania was completely funded by donations within a two-month timeframe. The individual donors were incredibly gracious about wanting to help us tell the story we went there to tell. We also had some amazing corporate sponsors assist us with equipment, money or both. This list includes Canon, Lensbaby, Thinktank, Hoodman, Radio Popper, ExpoDisc, Benro and Pro Photo Supply in Portland, Oregon.

© Burk Jackson/Creative Cares

ASMP: What licenses or registrations, either federal or local, are needed by CreativeCares in order to solicit funds?
BJ/CC:
Anyone can solicit donations to help with any sort of cause. The trick is that in order to be able to provide a tax receipt for the donation, you have to be a nonprofit registered with the IRS, which, as mentioned above, can be a lengthy and expensive process.

ASMP: Aside from the obvious goodwill resulting from a photographer’s involvement, have any participating photographers achieved professional notoriety for the work they have done through Creative Cares? Are there cases where a photographer’s involvement with a nonprofit has evolved into paid work?
BJ/CC:
Personally, I’ve begun to receive requests to do some paid work with local nonprofits as a result of my charitable work. This touches on a crucial topic, that we are not in the business of representing creatives to do paid work. If a nonprofit has a budget for a project, whatever that may be, the money would go to the creative doing the work for them. We don’t take any portion of that or get involved in the transaction. Not all work done for nonprofits needs to be done as a donation.

© Burk Jackson/Creative Cares

ASMP: What usage or ownership rights do creative volunteers retain for the work they produce for organizations in need? Is there any capability or intent on the part of any of the photographers involved to use certain pictures for future commercial purposes (i.e: stock licensing or other commercial applications)?
BJ/CC:
The creative volunteers retain all copyright to their work — this is their intellectual property. However, many nonprofits are very concerned that the photographer will turn around and license the images they’ve created while working for the nonprofit. We would need the creative to establish the appropriate usage rights for their images and understand the sensitivity and needs of the organization for which the work was created.

Creative Cares is currently looking into creating an image library from our members’ work. We are pursuing this with great sensitivity, as we are not trying to compete with our members or to go head-to-head with any stock photography companies. Our goal is to identify appropriate imagery, created as part of a CreativeCares project, and to license that imagery to qualified companies (observing a strict sensitive-subject policy). All monies generated from this avenue would be placed into a fund to empower future member projects and would not go to any operating expenses.

We’re still working out the details for this aspect of CreativeCares — and while we will definitely encourage our members to participate, it won’t be mandatory.

© Burk Jackson/Creative Cares

ASMP: Describe how expenses related to a creative volunteer’s project are handled. Are expenses reimbursed by Creative Cares, by the organization in need or are expenses considered part of the volunteer’s contribution?
BJ/CC:
It depends on the scope of the project. If it’s a one-day shoot done locally, the photographer may be willing to consider the expenses as part of their contribution. They can also negotiate with the organization they are working with to come up with a solution that works for both parties. If it’s a larger project that requires significant funds to accomplish, we have ideas in the works that may provide funds to help facilitate these projects. Also, if it’s an overseas or long term project, we’ll help the photographer and the nonprofit with ideas and tools to help them raise the funds to see the project through.

© Burk Jackson/Creative Cares

ASMP: You recently traveled to do a project in Tanzania as part of CreativeCares. Please describe your time and work there. What were the conditions like and what immediate benefit do you see coming out of this work?
BJ/CC:
I went to Tanzania to work with two different NGOs, one called Disability Aid Abroad, out of Ireland, and the other, Solar Hope, based here in Portland. Initially, the trip was planned around Disability Aid Abroad (DAA) and the Mehayo Centre for Disabled Youth in Morogoro, Tanzania. DAA covers costs of medical supplies to treat the center’s 46 residents. When DAA’s founder told me about the centre and it’s challenges, I thought it was a perfect scenario for CreativeCares to help them tell their story. The idea was that I visit and provide an accurate portrayal of the residents’ lives, not the typical shots of a child in a wheelchair looking forlorn. We’ve all seen those shots and they don’t have the same impact as they once did.

I spent two weeks living there with the children, spending the days with them, and documenting their lives. It was beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time. The children are generally happy and enjoy their lives — they are taken care of by people who have genuine love for them.

The immediate benefit for DAA and the Centre is a book, printed by Picaboo, for them to use as an awareness- and fundraising tool. I’ve reached out to our local AIGA chapter to find a designer to help implement a new Web site using the Squarespace platform. We also hope to help provide them with other tools to assist them as we move forward with the project.

© Burk Jackson/Creative Cares

Solar Hope, the second nonprofit, is in the process of doing a series of large-scale solar panel installations throughout Tanzania. They asked me to document a Masai village where they will be working to show donors and supporters the people they are supporting with their efforts. This village was relatively remote, 12 kilometers from the nearest village and completely off the grid, so to speak. As their lives have changed, the villagers have come to understand the value of cell phones as a means of communication. But, in order to charge their cell phone batteries, villagers must hire a motorbike driver to go to town, which costs a significant sum and takes quite a bit of time. I spent a brief amount of time documenting how cell phones have become an integral part of their lives.

As a bonus, I’ve been able to introduce these two charities. Solar Hope will soon be visiting Mehayo to assess the possibility of installing solar panels for basic electricity at a farm Mehayo is building. The land for the farm was donated to the Centre and is located approximately 12 kilometers from Morogoro. The intention of the farm is two-fold: To help with relocation of some of the Centre’s more independent individuals and to provide a sustainable revenue source through raising animals and growing vegetables for food at the Centre and to be sold in the local market.

Through our collaborations, we hope that we’ll be able to elaborate on our connections with different organizations and bring them together, similar to the situation with Mehayo and Solar Hope.

© Burk Jackson/Creative Cares

ASMP: You are very active in social networking. What role does this play in the overall mission of CreativeCares? When it comes to social networking, do you have a set strategy or does this depend on a given situation?
BJ/CC:
I believe social media, when done right, can be an incredibly effective tool to inform people about what’s happening within CreativeCares and what volunteer opportunities may be available. Our strategy is fluid; we use different avenues at different times, depending upon the situation.

ASMP: How much time do you spend on social networking yourself in an average day? Can you talk about what social networks you find most effective for a given purpose?
BJ/CC:
I would say that I average about one to two hours a day in the social media realm. Some days I’m posting about things that we’re doing and other days I’m reading about what other organizations and individuals are doing.

I find Twitter to be an extremely valuable way to find out what’s happening in the nonprofit and photography worlds. From there, I usually find articles that may be of interest to our members, which I repost on our news section and on our Facebook page. I also post on our Twitter account about what we’re doing and link to the articles I write or projects that we post online.

To pursue this comprehensively, we’re currently looking for someone to spearhead our social media and blogging efforts.

© Burk Jackson/Creative Cares

ASMP: Do you envision possibilities for local “chapters” of CreativeCares around the country, to directly address the needs of small organizations in need?
BJ/CC:
The beautiful part of working in the virtual world is that CreativeCares can exist wherever there is a photographer and nonprofit willing to work together. We already have photographers from all over the world who have signed up to be part of our cause and we hope to continue this trend. Our next goal is to attract more nonprofits in need of services so that we’re able to provide our creatives with a variety of projects they may be passionate about and in which they want to get involved. When we get to the point where we have a concentration of creatives and organizations in a given city, we will have them elect a liaison that will represent the organization locally or regionally. It would be a volunteer position that would allow that person the opportunity to coordinate efforts and provide cohesion within the projects in that location.

© Burk Jackson/Creative Cares

ASMP: What do you envision for the future Creative Cares? What planning and structure do you have in place to implement these goals?
BJ/CC:
Our vision for CreativeCares is to have a global network of creative talent that is willing to donate their time to help nonprofits tell their stories, expand their reach and connect with donors. My hope would be that creatives find nonprofits they are passionate about, no matter where they are, and that they accomplish projects to help make the world a better place. One person donating their time is a wonderful thing, but 350 people donating just one day each per year has a real chance to change things. Our goal is to give photographers the ability to effect change with the causes they care about.

© Burk Jackson/Creative Cares