2015 was an incredible ride for us. This time last year, we started off as just a vision of bringing people together to do more with Instagram. We knew that nonprofits lacked marketing resources - more specifically photographers to tell their story and that our friends in the Instagram community were eager to give of their time and talents to advocate for causes and push their creative boundaries.
This was a pretty big goal that we could go about approaching several different ways, so we started off by going back to the roots of just spending time with the very community we wanted to serve. We spent a good several months just hanging out with nonprofits and photographers in NYC and beyond - having conversations about their biggest pain points, biggest wins and dreams. We’ve had enough coffee meetings to keep us caffeinated for years, we traveled to the west coast for an instameet, we’ve been moved to tears by a volunteer event and have most definitely only hit the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding just how much goes into running a nonprofit.
Let’s take a look back at some of the highlights from this past year:
We've built a community of Storytellers from over 15+ cities. When a photographer first signs up, we ask them about causes they'd like to support so that we can align both Storyteller and nonprofit interests when we make a match. In 2015, we made over a dozen matches. Here are a few snippets our Storytellers wanted to share:
Picasso once said that all children are born artists. When I first arrived at the iHope School to photograph the kids at their Special Olympics event, one of the first things that caught my eye were the artworks on the wall. Creativity comes in all forms and the imagination of these children bloom like a field of flowers. It touched my heart to experience first hand the love, encouragement and support the children received on every level: physically, emotionally and creatively. Every child is born with a talent and iHope provides a sanctuary for these precious children to transform into the best versions of themselves." - Leanne Wei, @honeyandvelvet_
“I know that when speaking with Henry (one of the Littles at the Big Brothers Big Sisters volunteer event), he opened up once we found common ground. He felt that he couldn’t shoot architecture or nature because it was so hard to commute from where he lives in East Harlem. I told him a story about how jealous I was that my brother had the opportunity to explore China and other portions of Southeast Asia. But I didn’t need to travel all the way to China to find good photos. "Architecture is everywhere – not just Lower Manhattan, man!", I told him. He smiled and said, "I never thought about it that way." - Frank Fuhrmeister @stillupmysleeve
“I am especially excited about working with and taking portraits of some local farmers. I have attended Farm Aid concerts since I was in high school. I love the idea of bringing faces to the name of Farm Aid.” - Shawn Roller, @shawnroller
“This is the kind of community I’ve been looking for since I’ve moved back to New York City” - Jeffrey Rigeur, @majestic.encounters
We also ran a few volunteer instameets:
For our first volunteer instameet, we rolled up our sleeves and put our gardening gloves on. We joined together with New York Cares volunteers and learned quite a few things about identifying roots that are good for the park versus roots that need to be pulled out. Everyone got so into the experience that when our time was up, quite a few of us were reluctant to put our shovels down!
August 2015: Big Brothers Big Sisters Mobile Photography Workshop
In August, we ran a half-day workshop with Big Brothers Big Sisters NYC. Over pizza and soda, Storyteller Frank Fuhrmeister gave a workshop to 30 littles from ages 10-13 and their bigs. Frank talked about how you can get creative with your everyday surroundings just by looking at things from a different perspective. He ran through fun techniques like minimalism, bokeh and more. Then, we broke up into groups and sent everyone outside to put their newly learned knowledge to the test! Each group was given a photo scavenger hunt list - the more places photographed and the more techniques used, the higher you scored.
September 2015: Habitat For Humanity Cross-Country
Right before the temperatures dropped for winter, we wanted to partner with Habitat For Humanity to help them build homes and warmer shelter for those in need. We hosted three instameets in San Jose, Los Angeles and New York. Our very own Mike, Chief Storyteller Officer, flew to San Jose to build a house with a group of storytellers over there. In Los Angeles, our friend Andrew Oxenham hosted a meetup at the local ReStore, a furniture thrift shop where all the proceeds go into funding Habitat’s building initiatives. The store is almost entirely volunteer run, so the LA storytellers helped to staff the store for the morning and arrange inventory. In New York, we also partnered with our local ReStore - we did a home goods donation collection and photowalk!
October 2015: IAFR Walk For Refugees
One of our ongoing goals is to be able to activate and empower our community to support current issues like the refugee crisis. In October, we joined together with our friends at the IAFR to walk in Ride For Refuge. Despite the cold, cold temps and wet weather a small team of us and surpassed our goal of $2,000 in fundraising!
And... we rounded off the year with our first ever panel:
December 2015: Finding Your Nonprofit's Visual Story Panel
We really saw a lot of our efforts from the year come full circle with the panel event in December. We invited a few of our nonprofit and photographer friends to speak about the challenges they see in the nonprofit world - including lack of resources and difficulties photographing sensitive populations. Minnow Park, photographer and creator of By Way Of Brooklyn, posed a question we’ve thought about several times throughout the year - “How do you portray plight and hope without showing their faces?” A lot of times, revealing or even slightly suggesting the identity of some of these subjects of our stories can put them in danger. How do we tell their story and portray their emotions without giving this away? Minnow shared how to use body language and setting to work around this? Panelist and nonprofit professional Amber Sasse shared that storytelling actually makes your brain create a chemical called oxytocin which makes you more inclined to give.
Head on over to our Periscope account, @gramforacause, to catch the whole conversation.
From the bottom of our hearts, we just want to say thank you to all of you friends and supporters who inspire us to keep doing what we do on a daily basis. We’ve still got a lot to learn and a long way to go with the causes and communities we’d like to bridge, but we’re confident we’ll get there with your support. A lot lined up for 2016 - stay tuned for another packed year ahead!
We’re currently kicking off our first class of brand ambassadors. Interested in joining the team? Head on over here to check it out.