It doesn’t matter if you just boarded the FILM ship, or you have been a part of this amazing journey from the start; you all have felt the incredibly rapid growth! Some stood by in amazement and supported from afar. Others, held on tight and went along for the ride. And then there are those who have plunged head-first into the deep end (I will not name any names. However, you are the crazy ones.) You have all seen firsthand how many lives we have touched and continue to touch. Every single day, you see how our number of supporters, families and photographers continues to grow. And they are growing more than we ever could have imagined!
This is why I call this post “Holy Growth.”
No matter what religion you are. . . No matter if you go to church or not. . . If you have seen what has happened in 2011 you know there is a higher power working here. Blessing after blessing and the way that everything kind of just fell in order is nothing short of a miracle. You will read inspirational stories on our blog over the next couple months about how families heard about FILM when they needed us the most and how photographers came to find us at this critical moment in their life. I have always been a firm believer that “everything happens for a reason,” but I can tell you now more than ever, I know this is true. We wouldn’t be where we are today if it didn’t. Now that we have seen the beauty and blessing of this growth, what else does it mean?
It means 2012 is going to be another crazy year. With over 2000, beautiful family portraits provided in 2011, we are estimating at least 10,000 more portraits are going to be provided in 2012! Where 20 families may have contacted us over a two-month period in 2011. . . In 2012 it is nothing for 20 families to request sessions in one week!
This means we need more photographers. It means we need more help. Most importantly this means that we are reaching more people and helping more families.
Along with the blessings came growth. We also learned a lot in 2011. We learned where we went wrong in and where we need to apply more focus in 2012. An organization ran solely by one woman, is now run by at least 20 volunteers around the US. . . From scoring application, recruiting new photographers, training photographer, speaking with families, matching families with photographers, photographers providing the session, gifting the family images, marketing, fundraising, finding sponsors and SO MUCH MORE. . . A once simple operation is becoming more complex every single day. We are one of a kind. No other organization offers what we do, like we do. So, we have had to re-invent the wheel every step of the way. There is no business plan in the world that could have guided this ship. So we will continue to learn day by day, continue to do our best, and continue to live our mission every day.
Spreading the word, expenses, donations and moving into a new year
In 12 short months The FILM Project was able to recruit over 400 highly qualified photographers each willing to do at least one session per month for a FILM Family. That is 400 sessions per month that we are ready to gift to our FILM families. Once our base was laid, we were hitting the streets hard trying to spread the word to families. Unfortunately, this didn’t work out as planned. I will explain later.
After banging our heads against the wall (and then resorting to some discussion and deliberation,) we decided the best way to spread the word was to stop brochuring, knocking on doors, and wasting money and time and go right where we are needed the most. Hospice Centers.
Why Hospice Centers?
We learned a truck load in 2011 about who is willing to help us spread the word and where we are spinning our wheels. Hospitals had been turning us away. . And the thousands of brochures we did actually get in the doors, sit there and never get seen. That is money we spent, sitting in a stale plastic box, doing our families no good. We begin to ask, “How can be best reach our patients and their caregivers the most cost effective way?”
Let’s take a step back and look at our mission. The FILM Project’s mission is “to gift professional family portraits to cancer patients and other terminally ill during the most difficult time in their lives.” The first thing we learned in marketing class, is that you market where you can reach the highest volume of your target audience. Who is our target audience? It is not the everyday hospital patient and everyday hospital visitor, and it isn’t 90% of the people on Facebook. It is the caregiver and the patient. The patient who is often either in hospice care or caregiver who is speaking to a hospice social worker. Our first thought was to get our brochures to every single hospice center in the US (One of my often unrealistic goals. . . That have become a bit comical.) We could do this! However, how much would this cost us, and how much good would it really do? It would be another brochure in the bottom of their cold plastic welcome bag and thousands of dollars literally going right into the trash can. Not acceptable.
When a patient enters into hospice care, a hospice social worker and nurse are assigned to their case. These individuals are there during the most difficult time in this family’s life to make even more difficult decisions. Decisions that no one should ever have to make. They are counseled in many areas and delicately asked about their final wishes. One of those questions that is asked is what do you want to leave behind to your loved ones? Then it is the social worker’s job to help them with their wishes. It would be to facilitate a video diary, create a quilt, or to have family portraits taken. This is where we need to be. The FILM project needs to be the first thing these social workers think of. Education. We need to educate these social workers as to what we do. Then, we are not just a brochure in a plastic bag. We are now a suggested charitable service their trusted social worker or nurse is telling them about.
In 2012 we are going to spread the word through educating the Hospice world. We will be attending state and national conventions, and our photographers will be meeting with these facilities one on one. We will provide them with a welcome packet of information. Not to hand out to each new patient. . . But to educate them, so they can refer us to the right families. The families who need our services and would love nothing more than to leave the gift of family images to their loved ones.
We don’t want to stop there though. In 2012 we are starting FILM Days. A FILM Day is defined as a day The FILM Project will be present at a cancer treatment facility to educate about our services, and take family portraits for their patients. FILM will set these dates in advance and much planning will be involved, but we will be able to provide our gift to more families in each area in a shorter period of time.
So how in the world do we do all of this? Where is the money?
In 2011 we only spent approximately $9000 total for the year! These were our printing costs, operation expenses, office supplies, travel expenses, etc. We managed to keep these low because of wonderful individuals and companies that donated or sponsored items/events throughout the year. Due to all that rapid growth and all those blessings I was talking about, already in 2012 our overhead has nearly quadrupled, meaning it is more important now than ever for us to find help with little things. Maybe even things that you may not have thought you could donate.
In the past, attending conventions and conferences often means our registrations, tables, and/or booth space at events and conventions is donated to us by the host or company that has invited us to attend or is provided by on trade. The value of these donations’ range from $300-$8,000, and in rare cases as high as $10,000. (Example: of conferences that have donated space: Skip’s Summer School, HER Conference, Susan G Komen, Cancer Services of Grant County.) But what goes on these tables can get costly.
Occasionally, we have been able to find sponsors for our hotel expense (Example: Photo Merchant graciously sponsored our room for three nights at MGM for WPPI 2012 at nearly $225 per night, or we would not have been able to attend AT ALL) but most of the time these are expenses we have not had good-luck finding sponsors for. Other times an individual may sponsor our flight, or we may win our travel expenses through photo competitions. However, 90% of the time we are left with these expenses.
So why do we to travel to photography events?
You already heard why attending these events in the Hospice and Cancer world is important. But why are we going to multiple photography conventions? Exposure is exposure, and free exposure is even better! On January 1st 2011, we launched with three photographers. After attending WPPI (International photography convention,) we brought in another hundred or so photographers. Skip’s summer school brought in another 100. The HER Conference brought in another 50-70. We need professional photographers with tons of experience in order to provide these beautiful family images. I have been a photographer for over eight years, and I still walk into one of these difficult sessions, and all my technical photography abilities goout the window. Suddenly, I don’t know how to work my flash. I couldn’t imagine being a spankin new photographer and walking into one of these sessions. Let alone having the pressure to produce what may be these family’s last images together.
This is why our photographers are carefully selected through an extensive application review process, and acceptance is based on several different areas. Experienced and seasoned photographers attend these conventions. Some, attend multiple events, spending at least 10-12k on their continued education every single year!
I used to attend these events solely for the reason to recruit new FILMers. I soon found out that most importantly, these events serve as a way for FILM to build relationships and network among people who can help us grow. Going to Skip’s Summer School was the best and most beneficial conference we attended this year! Some photographers have probably never even heard of it. And compared to the size of WPPI. . . Skip’s 1/2 room of vendor booths is nothing compared to WPPI’s two huge tradeshow floors! I can’t even see every vendor in two days at WPPI! So why Skip’s? I was able to meet and talk to every single one of the vendors. We formed many long lasting relationships that have now provided us with resources, connections, and sponsorships.
Shortly after Skip’s I had the opportunity to eat lunch with Skip himself in Ohio to sit and brainstorm ideas. We were donated a full website from Smug Mug after struggling for six months to find the money to complete our current landing page. I got a chance to speak to many world known photographers such as Bob Davis, who shortly after returning from Skip’s did his first FILM session. Many more of these companies have donated products to our photographers, auctions and to our families. . .All of this happened because we were present. A 3-4 day trip turned into growth and thousands of dollars support for The FILM Project.
At Skip’s Summer School I also got to speak to every single photographer who approached our booth. I heard their story and why what we do means so much to them, and why they want to join our mission to use their God given talents to give back to those who need it the most.
You know. . . As Photographers we are there through some of the most amazing times in our client’s lives. From engagements, wedding, to the birth of their first child. . . Now, because of FILM, we are there during the most difficult. Our images capture memories for these families that can never be taken away.
In 2011 we were a blessing to so many families. . . And even became a family ourselves.
Who can even imagine what 2012 has in store?!
Thank you all for everything you do!
President and Founder