The Business of Photography Clubs and Societies
Written in January 2016
by Vincent Liew
Published in Issue 2 of Lightscape Magazine
It almost always starts on a good day when a few friends get together for some drinks to chat about their passion for photography and somehow, with an inexplicable certainty, they decided that with their combined passion, they will create a channel to promote photography art to a wider community.
Well, two things could happen from here: after sobering up, the idea of starting a photography club would be deemed too far-flung and thus dropped; or the idea would be materialized with persistence and uncanny conviction.
Okay, jokes aside. Anyone who intends to start a photography club will need to consider a series of factors in order to build a sustainable and progressive entity. Although this article should be read as a guide within the context of photography organizations and groups, it is applicable to clubs and societies of other nature. From here on, I will be referring to both clubs and societies as “clubs.” Now that I’ve gotten this out, let’s dive into serious business.
- You need a practical “Mission and Objectives”
Your mission and objectives lay the foundation of the club. Your mission should define your ‘higher’ ideals or broader goals. An example would be “We aim to be a premier photography club in xx city.” Your objectives are the detailed deliverables that you need to put in place to achieve your mission. The exercise of defining and redefining your mission and goals is to help you determine, considering all the resources available to the club, whether they are still relevant or realistic, to begin with. A well defined “Mission and Objectives” is important as that could be a catalyst in securing sponsors and/or donors. So, unless the club’s “Mission and Objectives” is but a window display, be careful not to over-promise.
- You Need a Strategy
Don’t underestimate the complexity of running a photography club. It is important to have a plan — if there are no intentions to grow your club then proceed no further. Although this article won’t be going into the details of strategic planning, the management needs to invest and investigate ways to remain sustainable and relevant. So I urge you to mull over these questions: 1) How do we serve the community; 2) How do we fund our activities? I can’t give you the answers — only you will know what’s best for the environment you are in.
- You Need Experts – The Management
I cannot emphasize enough the need for a good team in management. In an ideal situation, every club should have 1) individuals with strong management experience gained through profession or involvement in other similar organizations; 2) artistic talents or skilled individuals who excel in the art; 3) community managers and technical managers to leverage on technology for outreach programs and general IT-related matters; and 4) accounting and legal professionals to advise on money and legal matters. These four groups of individuals should take active leadership roles according to the nature of their expertise. And, of course, you should have an arsenal of patrons and a Board to help the club open doors to various opportunities. I know it is not easy to gather the ideal management team, but it pays to work on this.
- You Need Funding
If you have managed to iron out the above matters, congratulations on getting this far! We have now arrived at the crucial matter of funding your plans and activities. First and most foremost, it is necessary to plan the club’s financial budget. A good practice would be to plan 12 months in advance. Once the budget forecast is completed, there are several avenues where sources of funding might be available. The sources of funds can be available from within the club and from external parties. To name a few, internal sources of funds include generating income by conducting classes and workshops, organizing international photography salon competitions, and running membership drives. External sources include applying for public art grants, organizing fundraising events and clinching corporate or individual sponsors. Be creative in your approach and ensure that the sources of income are sustainable and renewable on a long-term basis, along with good governance within the processes of the club.
- You Need to Take Care of Donors and Sponsors
When donors and sponsors support the club, it is essential to express gratitude even when it is not necessarily needed. Unless the donor specifically requests to be kept anonymous, it is recommended to offer some public acknowledgment for the donors and sponsors. Every club needs to consider how they should provide ‘value’ for the sponsors and donors. Lets put it this way: “there is no free lunch”. And if a club does receive sponsorship or some form of donation, it is very likely that there exist some forms of alignment between the club’s mission and objectives or activities and with that of the donor’s or sponsor’s own philosophy or mission and objectives. So keep exploring and try to understand how the club can align itself with existing and potential donors and sponsors without compromising on its own goals.
- You Need Activities for Members
Any club is largely defined by its activities to either maintain or drive membership increase. As resources are frequently limited, it is, therefore, important to create activities for specific purposes. Having regular photo outings and club meetings are a good way to maintain membership and create bond-building opportunities, while workshops and talks can help with membership drives. There are no hard and fast rules about what kind of activity has to be for what purpose. Just be sure that the specific purpose of each activity is clear so that it can achieve its objectives. Who knows, your member(s) may eventually become donors and sponsors.
- You Need Distinctions and Honors
Every club, at some point, will want to create a unique identity to distinguish itself from other clubs. Likewise, members of the club may want to enjoy some form of exclusivity or identity. I recommend two approaches. The first is to introduce panel examinations whereby successful candidates (who are existing club members) may use specific titles like Licentiateship, Associateship, and Fellowship accompanying their names. The number of works required for Licentiateship is normally 10 images, 15 for Associateship and 20 for Fellowship. Second, the club can also introduce service honors to recognize members who have volunteered their time for the club. Members who receive such titles may similarly use it with their names. Some of the more common service honors are Honorary Fellow, Honorary Member, Members who rendered Excellent Service and etc.
- You Need to Build Alliances
As the saying goes, “no man is an island.” In the same way, no club should isolate itself. It is largely beneficial to form alliances or partnerships with other local, regional or overseas clubs. The wider your network, the deeper your activities could go. For example, your club could co-organize international circuit exhibitions, photo tours or workshops. This could further develop into forming an alliance or federation between the clubs. Well, if there is an existing alliance or federation, join it.
As much as I want to, this article cannot cover the full depth of operating a photography club. Important issues like good governance, quality management and coping with changes are equally important. You may think that this is equivalent to running a company — as I’ve mentioned earlier, it really depends on how serious you are in growing your club. The choice is entirely yours. Most of all, enjoy and have fun.
“A photograph shares a synchronous relationship between the photographer, the subject, the subject’s environment and the viewer” – Vincent Liew