As a celebrity, fashion and lifestyle photographer in Los Angeles, Jim Jordan had long wrestled with ways to create a charitable focus for his business.
“Figuring out how I wanted to donate was a difficult first step,” says Jordan. “I would regularly donate funds, but it didn’t feel personal and didn’t seem to have much of an impact. I wanted to be sure I was making a difference, even if it was for just a few people.”
While researching homeless shelters in Los Angeles, he discovered The Dream Center. A volunteer-driven organization serving over 40,000 people each month in downtown LA, The Dream Center provides residential rehabilitation programs for teens and adults, shelter for victims of human trafficking, a transitional shelter for homeless families, mobile hunger relief and medical programs, foster care outreach, adult basic education, job skills training and life skills counseling.
“Seeing up close the poverty and pain people endure every day, I had to help,” says Jordan. “I began bringing food and gifts to the center, offering words of encouragement and giving them haircuts—I began as a hairstylist in this industry. I brought Jisele, a therapy dog, with me for them to play with. Today, I spend much of my time at The Dream Center photographing incredible life changes and sharing the images with the individuals involved so they have reminders of their dramatic transformations.”
Then he found out about an organization that invites the homeless to participate in karaoke every week in the heart of the Skid Row district in downtown LA. “Every week I attend homeless karaoke and photograph everyone singing and dancing. I give them the images to remember how much fun they had and that there is a place for them to go, even in the toughest times,” says Jordan.
Pet Rights & Wrongs
A strong supporter of animal rights, Jordan has been doing volunteer work for PETA for years. Realizing he could use his industry connections to spread the word, he has photographed celebrities for covers of nonprofit magazines such as Animal Fair and Modern Dog, billboards and ads for PETA. He organizes and funds the shoots, including all aspects of production, staffing, postproduction.
Jordan receives generous support from top equipment companies, who provide him with all the necessary gear. “Wacom, which manufactures the best tablets on the market for postproduction, has been a huge contributor to the PETA campaigns,” says Jordan. “I recently volunteered with Charlize Theron to photograph billboards of her for PETA against the use of animal fur. The billboards were a hit, spreading animal awareness to millions of viewers.”
Working It Out
Managing his photography business to accommodate his volunteer work is a balancing act. Throughout the course of a week, he spends significant hours working with the organizations he supports, generating new concepts, strategizing outreach and planning events. While he’s working on these projects, Jordan makes sure his studios are operating as usual, with his assistants taking care of clients and keeping everything is running smoothly.
“I generally don’t need to hire additional staff when I volunteer at The Dream Center or ‘homeless karaoke,’” he explains. “However, when shooting for nonprofit organizations and magazines, I staff production and digital crews, in addition to my teams in my LA and NY studios. I also spend time editing images from events, sending them to the organizations, promoting the organizations through articles in which I’m featured, and on blogs and other social media.”
It took patience and trial and error to achieve this balance. “At first, work and volunteer projects collided often. Sometimes I had to skip an event where I’d planned to volunteer to meet a client deadline or do a commissioned photo shoot. Eventually these challenges helped me improve my time management skills,” says Jordan.
He also spends part of every week mentoring new photographers, opening their eyes to aspects of the photography business that they may not realize are crucial, such as a powerful website and image backup and storage solutions.
“LiveBooks, the top web-building site for pro shooters, gave me a discount code to distribute to students and new photographers to help them get started,” he notes. “Drobo, which makes the best backup systems on the market, also provides a discount code to ensure that up-and-coming photographers can secure their images.”
Where to Begin
If you’ve thought about doing volunteer work but currently are hard pressed for time, consider hosting a fundraiser, donating a percentage of ticket and print sales to the organization, or taking photos for organizations and the individuals they support.
Jordan shares images from his time volunteering using PhotoShelter. When any images are sold on PhotoShelter, he donates a percentage to the organizations he supports. He also uses an online database, Adbase by Agency Access, to connect with prospective clients. “When companies learn that I donate a percentage of my earnings to charitable organizations, they often commission me over someone who doesn’t,” he adds.
If you are thinking of devoting time to a volunteer project, Jim Jordan suggests taking the following steps:
1. Find an area of need that interests you. The possibilities are virtually endless. Some people are passionate about the environment or animals, while others want to help individuals in medical distress or with family hardships.
2. Do your homework. Find an organization that touches your heart.
3. Contact that organization. Contact the group you’ve chosen to find out how you can help. Nonprofit organizations are grateful for any assistance they get.
4. Get organized. Work on incorporating your new project into your business schedule.
Concludes Jordan, “Giving to a cause you are passionate about will change your life. One of the most important things I have learned is that volunteering helps me just as much as it helps others.”
For more about Jim Jordan’s volunteer activities, as well as his celebrity, fashion and lifestyle work, visit jimjordanphotography.com.