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Episode #035

3 Simple Ways to Fund Your Photography Project


UPDATED: May 21, 2023


You have a great idea and now you have one problem: Money. How do you get it? These three ideas help to boost the overall professional image of your project, while bringing in that much needed funding.


Smart strategies for funding your creative work

When you dig into a new photography project, you want to focus on the creative parts and do the work. You don't want to tediously plan a fundraiser or wait for grant or sponsorship money.

Well, what if I told you that you could do both? That you could be out in the field doing what you love and creating impact, but also getting the money to take your project to the next level?

In this episode, I’m introducing three fantastic funding tools that I use to keep my passion project overhead costs covered so that I can continue to stay active on all the other parts of the project I love.

And the thing is, they are super easy for anyone at any skill or experience level to implement. 

Whether you're starting your first project or are launching your fiftieth, these strategies will help you bring in some funds so you can stay focused on creativity and the project's big picture. 


You'll Learn

  • How to sell swag, without upfront costs or boxes of t-shirts and mailing supplies filling your closet
  • A simple – and automated! – way to start selling prints and licensing images
  • The essential tool that will help you create a community of paying supporters
  • Inspiring stories of photography projects that have used these methods

Resources Mentioned

Curious about the other tools I use in my business?
Here's my entire recommended tool kit. 


Episode 035: 3 Simple Ways to Fund for Your Photography Project

Shownotes: ConservationVisuals.com/35

(Digitally transcribed, please forgive any typos)


Jaymi Heimbuch:
So you've come up with a great conservation photography project idea. You've got all your ideas lined out for the work. It's super streamlined. You know what you want to accomplish. You've created a website or a social media profile, and you're fired up to get the project off the ground and in front of people, There's one hangup. Money. It's hard to get your hands on it. And you might have things that you need to fund ASAP, and you don't want to wait until you hopefully win that grant, or hopefully score that sponsor funding.

Now, there are three fantastic funding tools that I have used and currently use to keep my passion project overhead costs covered and keep it running so that I can continue to stay on the ground and document things. These ideas are easy to implement. They help to boost the overall professional image of your project, and they can bring in that much needed funding that is especially important to have when other funding sources like grants or scholarships or paychecks are all pending. Are you excited? Let's dig in.


Welcome to Impact: The Conservation Photography Podcast. I'm your host, Jaymi Heimbuch. And if you are a visual storyteller with a love for all things wild, then you're in the right place from conservation to creativity, from business to marketing and everything in between this podcast is for you. The conservation visual storyteller, who is ready to make an impact. Let's dive in.


Hello, and welcome to this episode of impact. Thank you so much for listening. You know, back when I was first getting started in conservation photography, I found it really difficult to find community, to find other people working inside of this niche so that I could talk about the work or brainstorm ideas with people who really get it. And especially it was hard to find educational resources that would teach me how to actually use my images in a way that was effective for conservation. I know that my journey to where I am now would have been a lot smoother and a lot speedier. If I had had one place to go where I could meet other people working in this realm and importantly, get at those educational resources, that would walk me through the different things that I need to know in order to do this work well.

And as I advanced into working professionally as a conservation photographer, I've noticed that there are some very specific needs for those who are trying to earn a living as a conservation creative, it was time to build a resource where everyone with the drive to use their art, photography, and films to benefit conservation could get what they needed and to be able to network easily with other people in this field. So Wild Idea Lab was born. Wild Idea Lab is where conservation visual storytellers find creativity, community, and support for your wildest work with monthly masterclasses, live video, hangouts, live Q&A sessions with editors and experts, curated resources like a successful pitch samples database. And of course, an amazing community of like-minded and talented people. Wild Idea Lab is truly a one of a kind resource, no more feeling isolated in your work or wondering how to do things.

This community is built for you no matter where you are in your journey as a conservation visual storyteller, if conservation photography, filmmaking, or artistry is a passionate hobby, and you're looking for ways to better serve local conservation organizations, or if you're excited to find your path into professional conservation visual storytelling. And you're trying to figure out exactly how to do that, or if you're already a professional in this field, and you're trying to figure out how to streamline your business or how to market yourself, or how to get your work out in a bigger way. Wild Idea Lab has what you need. I invite you to visit join.wildidealab.com to learn about all the many benefits of becoming a member. That's join.wildidealab.com. I hope to see you in the lab. And now let's dig into this episode. I like to only teach things that I've actually tried and know work.

So the three strategies that I'm covering today are strategies that I've tested out and that I currently use because they work and I've watched friends with big projects, use one or several of these with success as well. So I'm really excited that if you have a photography project that you need to just bring in some funding to keep it running so that you can do the work. If you decide to implement one of these, it's really going to help. So the first tool I want to talk about is swag. This is all about setting up a store on your project website, where you can sell items and people can buy them in order to help support your work. Now, when I say set up a store for people to buy items, you might be thinking that you need to invest money in purchasing an inventory, say of a whole bunch of tee shirts or mugs or something.

Not at all. I'm going to talk about how to use this in a way that doesn't cost you anything upfront. And doesn't require you to have boxes of t-shirts fill your closet and a ton of mailing supplies shoved under your bed. Instead, we're talking about fully automating your online store and using print on demand. And that way, very little work after getting it set up, goes into running it. And zero extra inventory is floating around. So here's how I do this with Urban Coyote Initiative. Urban Coyote Initiative is a project that actually turned into a business. It's a benefit corporation. And I use several strategies in order to help cover the overhead costs of keeping urban coyote initiative up and online while we're trying to figure out, okay, so who's our next collaborator? How are we funding that? What grant are we writing instead, selling swag on the store, along with these other two tools that I'm gonna talk about that keeps us going.

So Urban Coyote Initiative is hosted on WordPress, but this works no matter if you're on WordPress or on Squarespace or some other platform, but I'm going to use what we do as the example. So on WordPress, we use a plugin called WooCommerce, and there's a whole bunch of other options out there like Shopify. And basically you just need something that allows you to set up the overall store, a way for people to select an item, hit buy, pay money. So we use WooCommerce, really popular plugin, and it's free to use. And I set up the store with WooCommerce, where we plug in all the different products that we want to use and people can go through, they can shop, they can add things into their shopping cart. And then when they purchase, it's hooked up to our payment platforms. And so that might be PayPal or Stripe.

Now, once someone picks out what they want to purchase and they've bought it well, what happens next is that order automatically goes to our print fulfillment service. So I don't even see anything other than the fact that someone bought something. I don't deal with fulfilling any orders. Instead, that order goes automatically to a company we use called Printful. Printful is a really fantastic printing service. And they do everything from t-shirts to hats, mugs, pillows, bags, leggings. They have a ton of items for you to choose from when you set up your basically your shop on Printful, you select what products of theirs that you want to have your logo or whatever it is printed on. And what they allow you to do is to create a mock up. And so you have that to add to your WooCommerce store or whatever store platform you're using.

So people can kind of see what your logo looks like on a tee shirt or on a mug or on a bag. And then you basically set up that product and the print files on their website inside of your dashboard. And in that you can choose things like what colors of the products or what sizes of those t-shirts you're going to have available. And that way Printful and WooCommerce. They can talk to each other. That inventory is always updated from Printful to WooCommerce and WooCommerce sends orders directly to Printful where that order is automatically printed. And then Printful will ship out that order to the buyer. You can even customize how that appears when buyers get it. So the mailing label that people get shows our logo, and then it comes from urban coyote initiative. And when they open it up and they see their receipt or their invoice inside the package that has our branding on it as well.

So as far as a customer is concerned, they bought something from Urban Coyote Initiative and it arrived from Urban Coyote Initiative. However, on our end, they dealt with WooCommerce. They dealt with our payment processor, they dealt with Printful, and I'm sitting back just making sure that everything went through smoothly and handling any questions that pop in, but I don't have to deal with any of that order fulfillment. And that way, my time is totally freed up by the money we earn from these sales. So supporters who want to support our work and sport our logo, and basically have our swag around them. All of that income goes toward running the overhead of urban coyote initiative. So things like website, hosting fees and domain renewals, and even the fees that it takes to have our business entity filed every year with the state. Um, all of those kind of backend costs that are required.

This store, all of the orders cover that. So all of those supporters who head into the shop and fall in love with our logo and want to wear it, or want to have a mug and support our work through those purchases, those purchases truly do go to keeping us up and running. Now there's another option for you if you don't want to use Printful. And I haven't used this service, but it looks pretty good. They have very persistent customer service, and it's basically the same print on demand service, but marketed specifically toward fundraising. The service is called Bonfire and Bonfire basically helps you create a product like a tee shirt that you would use toward a fundraising effort. So I think that this could be a great option if you're doing something like in a set amount of time, like if you're doing a fundraising push in order to cover some time in the field or to cover some equipment that you really need for your project.

So rather than an ongoing online store, if you want to try this out for this print on demand service, Bonfire is a potentially good option as well. Now, again, I use WooCommerce and Printful for Urban Coyote Initiative, but you can use a whole bunch of other storefront options. Like Shopify is really popular. And again, there's other print on demand services out there as well. I've been using Printful for years and really love them. Their service has been slowed down recently because of COVID-19 however, when they're up and running at full force. They're excellent.

All right. So that's swag. Now, the second tool that we want to talk about for how you can bring in some extra income to help your project is through licensing and prints. So licensing images or selling prints is a really great way to get your work out there and earn some income as well.

This is not going to bring in big bucks, but if you're looking for a relatively simple way to earn some money here and there from your project's work, then it's a great option. You don't have to spend a bunch of money or get in with a stock agency to set things up. You'll build your own licensing library on your projects website, or host your own image, print sales on your project's website, easy and straightforward. Now, if you want to license images, there's a couple of options. There's licensing plugins that you could use. So if you're using like a WordPress website, you can use a plugin to allow you to host all these images and make those sales. If you're using Photoshelter, that's a really great platform for being able to license images, to have these galleries that people look through, select the images they want to license, and then be able to basically check out the same as they would with a shopping cart for a store for Urban Coyote Initiative.

We use Imagely's Next Gen plugin. So Imagely is a platform. They build themes for photographers for websites, and they also have this plugin called Next Gen that allows you to display really beautiful galleries of images on your website. So next gen has e-commerce capability. So it's really easy to set up a gallery and have options in there for how people can purchase those images. Really great option for you. There are other plugins available. Of course, I'm just letting you know what Urban Coyote Initiative uses. So what we do for Urban Coyote Initiative is we get a lot of inquiries about licensing our images from everything from magazine articles, to marketing purposes for nonprofit groups. So what I did was set up a page where all of our images that are available for licensing could be displayed. And when someone decides that they want to kind of shop through what we have, I give them a password into that gallery and they can go through it and select what they want to license from there.

I negotiate a quote for them, and then we figure out fees and do all the paperwork and everything on the back end. It's come in really handy. And it's been a great way to earn income from licensing images. What we could also do. I don't currently do this, but I probably will in the future is we could also use that same plugin Next Gen, to be able to offer prints for sale and to automate print sales so that they function exactly the same as our store in that someone might look through a gallery, select what print they want, hit buy. And then that print order goes to a print company for fulfillment. It's really easy to automate that way as well. Now, one example, because I don't do this on UCI, I want to make sure and give you an example. In one example is Freshwaters Illustrated.

This is a great example of someone who's providing prints and access to image archives, but I'm going to dig into that later. Freshwaters Illustrated is a nonprofit, and it has a similar purpose as urban coyote initiative, but with freshwater ecosystems and they're set up as a nonprofit rather than a benefit corporation. So Freshwaters Illustrated creates these immersive visual stories that really connect people with freshwater ecosystems and they produce short films for broadcast and education. If you hop onto their website, they also have image galleries. And as you sort through that, you'll see that they offer those images in the galleries for sale as prints, you select your size. And if you want a print or a canvas wrap and away you go, it's a really brilliant way for them to bring in additional funds for their nonprofit. And people are really excited to get a print and support something that they really believe in.

And again, just like with selling swag, you can fully automate a print shop so that once it's set up and connected with a printer for fulfillment, you don't have to spend any time filling print orders. I know that Imagely has set up this kind of automation. And again, I haven't used it. So I can't say for sure, you know, if I recommend it or not, but they do have it set up. So when I decided to actually get this set up to sell prints on Urban Coyote Initiative, I'm going to try automating it with Imagely for them to fulfill the prints and I'm hands off. So it is a great option to use this tool, to get a return on your initial time investment and to maximize how much your website is working for you. If you already spent a bunch of time setting up a website for your project, why not have it bring in some passive income to support that project licensing?

Your images is going to take more hands on work because you're connecting with someone and figuring out what they need and then generating quotes and negotiating rates. But you can earn a pretty hefty amount from a single sale, if all things go well. Prints, on the other hand, they can take almost no time investment after you set up automation, but sales are not going to be as frequent. And so it might be kind of stop and go with earning money through that route, either way, licensing and prints. It's a great option to make use of the assets that you're already creating for your project to fund some of the costs of working on that project. Now, a moment ago, I mentioned that Freshwaters Illustrated provides access to image archives. And that brings me to the third tool for bringing in funds to support your photography project. A membership community.

A membership community is simply a platform where people pay on a monthly basis or an annual basis to get at certain assets. Now you can get really fancy with a membership. For instance, I run Wild Idea Lab, which is also a membership community for conservation visual storytellers, but that is a huge endeavor with a lot of moving parts. And we get really in depth with what people gain by becoming a member when you're working on a photography project, and you need to focus on image creation and the mission of the project.

You don't want to spend a ton of time and energy on this fancy complex membership community. Keep it simple and straightforward, remembering that anyone who joins is joining that membership truly because they want to support your work. So it's okay to be streamlined as long as you're really offering value and creating your own membership structure through your website is certainly an option, but you don't want to invest a ton of time and money in setup from figuring out how to create locked content on your website and researching membership plugins and figuring out member data security issues and all that stuff.

There's an easier way that makes creating a membership, simple, straightforward, and fun. And here's how I do that with Urban Coyote Initiative. We use Patreon. Now, I'm sure you're probably familiar with Patreon, especially if you're a podcast listener, because a lot of creatives, including podcasters use Patreon as a way to earn money from their supporters. So Patreon is a standalone platform. You create your account as a creator on Patreon, and then you can set up tiers. So maybe the lowest tier for membership is $3 a month or $5 a month. And maybe that unlocks some certain special content like access to a exclusive articles or posts or how to stuff. And then the next tier could be $10 a month or $15 a month. And that earns that member even more exclusive benefits. And then the third tier or the fourth year, the fifth tier can get even more in-depth or rich and be of higher value. And so people pay a higher value for that.

So with Urban Coyote Initiative, we have a $5 a month supporter and that earns our undying gratitude and some access to behind the scenes posts and articles and what we're up to. So people who are supporting us, they get some exclusive content and they can follow us in a way that's more in depth than anything that we have on our public facing website. Then we have a $10 a month membership tier, and that gets those members a little bit extra. So they get a coupon to our store and a couple of extra benefits. And then we have a $25 a month membership tier. And not only does that get them all of the stuff that they get in lower tiers, but they also get an actual product from us. We created a Coyote Coexistence Community kit.

And so we mail out to those supporters, an actual product that they get that can help them promote coyote coexistence in their area. And Patreon has everything set up for you so that you can track who your supporters are and you can message them and thank them. And you can provide that exclusive content like articles and posts behind locked doors without having to actually figure out or anything like that. And you can track your member benefits and when things are getting sent out so that you don't accidentally forget to send someone a benefit, or you can stay on schedule. And then at the end of the month, when they charge everyone, they'll just send you the whole amount. And so once a month, you're getting some recurring revenue into your projects, bank account. It's incredibly helpful to have the supporters, not only financially, but also psychologically, you know, that people are willing to support your work on a monthly ongoing basis, which keeps you really motivated to be out in the field producing work.

Now, back to that example of Freshwaters Illustrated, this nonprofit also has a membership structure that provides access to films and their image archives for educational purposes and discounts on prints and products all depending on your tier level. And they have that set up on their website. So there's a lot of ways that you can do this. If you are just getting started and trying to figure out how to do this for your project. I suggest going with Patreon because all of the heavy lifting is done for you, but if you're pretty comfortable and savvy with coding and you want everything to live on your website, by all means, set that up on your website. I want to emphasize the importance of having some passive income covering the cost of your photography project. So I'm going to sound a little self-indulgent, but just for a moment, I am a really busy person.

I'm teaching my Conservation Photography 101 online course students, I'm running Wild Idea Lab. I'm running my photography business, where I need to keep up with image licensing and story pitching. And I'm creating these podcast episodes and managing my free Facebook group for conservation photographers. I'm working on my own big photography project, Watershed Sentinels. I don't have any tours to run thanks to COVID, but normally I'm also running Oregon Coast photo tours. And then there's my baby, Urban Coyote Initiative. Now I'm listing all of this stuff out because I know that you are just as busy. You have just as much on your plate in varying ways. And when you're juggling all these things, it's really easy to let important stuff like writing a grant for your project or planning a social media fundraiser for your project, all slipped to the back burner. And then if you can't fund your project, you're letting the project itself slip to the back burner.

If instead that project is bringing in enough to at least cover the overhead of a website or some days in the field, then you stay motivated and active in that project. Even if you go at a slow pace, that is just fine because you're still moving forward. I mean, honestly, Urban Coyote Initiative, it operates at the speed of cold molasses, but it keeps going. And these three tools helped me to maintain a website to pay the team members whose images get licensed or who contribute posts and articles. And it covers my time to research and write grants or to travel, to talk with researchers about collaborating all this keeps UCI moving forward, and it can keep your project moving forward too. Especially when you have a full and busy schedule. Now I know that some of this can seem kind of big and overwhelming, even though you can keep these tools very straightforward and simple, it can be kind of a lot to fathom and you're not necessarily sure how to implement them.

Now, this is the kind of stuff that we really dig deep into as members of Wild Idea Lab. Wild Idea Lab is all about implementation. It's about getting into the nitty gritty of being a conservation visual storyteller, whether that's the creative aspect, the volunteer aspect, the marketing or business aspects, it's where we're having these elevated conversations. So if figuring out creative fundraising strategies for your projects or digging deeper into the how tos of this work is something that you're really interested in, I invite you to check out, join.wild.idealab.com. Now I mentioned quite a few resources links to all of the tools and the resources that I mentioned in this episode can be found in the show notes at jaymih.com/35, the number 35 for this episode. so at jaymih.com/35, you'll find all the links to everything that I mentioned just in case you didn't have a notepad with you as you're listening to this episode.

And before I sign off, I'd like to take a moment of gratitude. The reviews that come in for this podcast are so encouraging like this one from Jay Adler Owen. Jay Adler Owen says: Jaymi's positive energy and love for teaching and sharing her knowledge make for an enjoyable and very helpful podcast. She breaks down topics into understandable bits and helps you achieve them. Step-by-step with encouragement along the way. She's a gem in the conservation photography community. And I highly recommend this podcast to all conservation and nature photographers looking for inspiration and for taking their work and business to the next level. Thank you, Jaymi. Thank you, Jay Adler Owen. These words mean a lot to me because I really do love to break things down and help to walk you through the how to, I truly believe that there is no room in conservation for information hoarding and success happens when we all help each other make progress.

So to know that the how to information matters and is getting out there is so encouraging. Now, if you're learning from this podcast and loving it, I'd be so grateful. If you could take a minute or two to leave a rating or review wherever you're listening to this podcast, these positive reviews are encouraging for sure. But even more importantly is that they helped to push the podcast in front of more listeners. And that means getting this how to information out to more people who can use it to make a positive impact in conservation using their creative talents. So thank you so much for taking just a moment to leave a rating or review. I appreciate it. I appreciate you. And I will talk to you next week.


Before we wrap up, I would love to ask you to do one quick thing. Subscribe to this podcast as a subscriber. You'll not only know when each week's episode goes live, but you'll also get insider goodies like bonus episodes. You might miss them unless you're subscribed. And I don't want you to miss out on a thing. So please tap that subscribe button and I will talk to you next week.


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