1. What is The Giving Lens?
The Giving Lens is an organization that focuses on blending photography education with giving back to local communities. Read more here.
2. How does it work?
The main purpose of these trips is to make a difference. The trips will send teams of photographers and photo enthusiasts to developing nations, where they work alongside a local non-profit organization to serve a community in need. They will give back with their time, their compassion, and, of course, their photography. Those who participate will grow, both as people as well as photographers. Along with volunteering, the team will go to photographic locations that many only dream of, and have the chance to shoot. During these days, the Team Leader will be available to field any questions you have, provide mini-lessons, and run small workshops for those who require it. See more under question 10 and 11. The time volunteered with the non-profit can and will be many different things, as needs are different in every country. TGL is ready to work with any people group that finds itself disadvantaged, ignored, unheard or hurting – from war survivors, to sex trade workers, to those living with AIDS, to young pregnant mothers, to street youth, to disaster survivors and more. Once the trip is completed, TGL cuts over half the profits back to the NGO. See more under questions 7-9.
3. Will it be safe?
The short answer is that with basic common sense, and advice from our partnered NGO, there is no reason for concern. The entire TGL Staff and our trusted photographers/team leaders are all well-traveled and have great knowledge on the do’s and don’t's. That being said, we strive to provide a safe, comfortable environment in which participants can experience, learn, and grow in a new culture. Of course, travel in developing nations is different from travel in a developed nation and certain logical cautions will be taken, based on what is recommended by the non-profit. However, one of the goals of a TGL trip is to really experience a culture, so particpants can expect a unique, “off-the-beaten path” experience. We want to immerse the team in the culture, the food, the music, the language, the colours, and the nuances of a country and it’s people while at the same time ensuring safety for our team. We seek to walk the line between these two goals, and we believe we walk it very well.
4. How do I apply?
Applications are found within workshops, over here. Click on the trip you are interested in, and then click on “Apply Now”.
5. How are applicants selected?
We accept applications for a certain time period which is announced in our newsletter and on our fan sites. We review the applications and begin to build the team. Our goal is always to take a team with a variety of backgrounds, ages, occupations, skill level, and experience. We feel this builds a better team dynamic and ensures there is room for everyone. We review all applications. We work partly on a first-come-first-served basis – but we do also consider how emotionally prepared the applicant is for international travel to a developing nation, as culture shock and poverty awareness can be extremely stressful for an unprepared volunteer. All these things are considered when building our teams.
6. What is covered in the trip fee?
Trip fees vary from country to country but will include accommodation, transportation, activities, a translator (if necessary), entrance fees to parks or sites, and a substantial donation to the non-profit organization. Some trips cover meals. Trip fees do not include flights.
7. How does the NGO profit from a TGL Trip?
First, the NGO receives ample airtime and recognition on our various social networks. This builds their name and garners attention to their cause. Second, we do fundraisers pre-trip from straight cash donations, to camera drives. Third, the team on the ground lends a tangible and helpful hand in whatever way necessarily. Forth, we donate all photos from the trip back to the NGO for their media and website use — which is vital to the growth and success of an NGO. Fifth, we bring our sponsors onboard to provide anything from Smugmug Prints to Joby tripods to Nik editing software, all of which benefit the NGO and lets them know we stand in solidarity with them and their cause. Sixth, we go local: locally run hotels, family-run restaurants, local translators and transportation provides, you name it — we want as much of our trip fees to go back to the local community. See question 8 for more information. Lastly, we remain partners with the same NGOs and offer repeat trips. We only partner with one NGO per country as an act of solidarity, and seek to grow that relationship over the years.
8. Where do the profits go?
Over half of the profits from the trip go right to the non-profit organization. A portion of the profits return to The Giving Lens to cover administrative and various overhead costs. The Giving Lens is not a non-profit organization, and there for do not directly handle any of the trip fees. All finances are handled through the NGO organizations we connect with for each individual workshop. See question 11 for more info. Profits aside, we also strive to put the money spent back in to the community: we stay at family-run hotels, eat at locally-owned restaurants, take you to artisan markets, hire a local translator, local transport, and – in the cases where our meals are cooked for us and delivered – local cooks. Our trips benefit the community at multiple levels in this regard.
9. What will I be able to write-off on my taxes?
For US residents, this is a likely possibility. However, every organization is structured differently, so we can’t make any blanket statements about this. TGL always works hard to ensure you will be able to write off as much of the trip as possible. You will know before you pay your fees how much is tax-receiptable.
10. Who leads the trips?
Teams are always lead by one professional photographer, and one photographer’s assistant. Both will have ample experience in travel, photography, leadership, and/or photo-education. Some teams are lead by Colby Brown, but as we grow and expand, teams will be lead by other professionals will go the distance to make sure your trip is excellent in all regards.
11. What will I learn from the workshops?
Here at TGL we believe the purpose of the trip is to Give Back. We don’t want this aspect overshadowed by any other aspect on the trip. However, we do also want to provide an environment where participants can grow in all ways, including as photographers. First, you will find the simple step of immersing yourself in a team of photographers to be a huge growth in your photography, especially if you’ve never done it before. Second, we will have workshops on every trip but much like everything else in a developing nation, we ask participants to be flexible about what this will look like. Because we will have a variety of skill levels on every team, the Team Leader and Assistant will be available at locations to field any questions you have, and will be prepared to give mini-sessions to those with no experience shooting the subject at hand (ie a Sunrise). Third, we will offer photo-critiques at least twice per trip, which can be an enormous growing experience for photographers of all levels. Outside of workshops, every Team Leader and Assistant will be available upon request for more help. So really, we ask you to take charge and approach us as needed — no question is too big or too small. This way those who do not require help in that regard can carry on, while others who do can join the conversation. As we already said, the purpose of the trip is to Give Back. You will grow in many ways, and your photography will be one of those ways, but the workshops and critiques will not dominate the trip. We’re here to help, and this aspect of the trip is the proverbial cherry on top!
12. Is TGL a non-profit?
The Giving Lens is not an NGO or a registered Non-Profit. This allows us to have flexibility with who we work with, where, and how we go about it. At the end of a trip, profits are split between us and the NGO we partnered with, with over half the profits going back to the NGO. Per trip this ranges from $5k to $15k! The portion we keep is to cover our administration costs, pay our single staff member, grow our organization, and prepare for future trips.
13. Is TGL a Faith-Based Organization?
No. TGL is not affiliated with any religion or faith. However, we recognize that many non-profits in other parts of the world are faith-based, and many communities we will serve will be religious communities. We are willing to work with any organization, faith-based or otherwise, whose primary mission, goal, and mandate is empower communities and make a tangible difference in the world.
14. What is Your Refund Policy?
Our refund policy is based on the fact that when trips are less than four months away, it is extremely hard to fill a spot. As well, a cancellation after four months is financially stressful, as money has been wired to the country, and deposits paid based on a particular number of participants. These are reasonable terms, in place to protect our other participants, our partner NGO, and ourselves.
Terms and conditions
All participants are required to produce an electronic signature on the Refund Policy, and on a TGL Participant Contract which states that health and well-being are as listed on the original application; that they have purchased health and travel insurance (including flight cancellation insurance); and that they have read and agreed to all the terms above.