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Compassionate Eye – Using creative energy to improve the world

March 6, 2012
all grins in Guatemala

Something magical happens when you are serving over self and, when you are giving particularly to children, I think a special creative energy takes over for all of us.”
Quote from Robert Kent, video from 2008 photo shoot

Compassionate Eye Foundation  (CEF) was founded in 2007 by Robert Kent, a world-renowned photographer with a vision for change. In its few short years, CEF has raised $1,000,000 to support education, societal and health changes in numerous parts of the world; not from donations or government grants but instead from a staggeringly simple but effective idea that has and will continue to pay big dividends.

The concept: get a number of highly qualified photographers together each year on the summer solstice in locations around the world, snap a bunch of photographs, deliver them to Getty Images and reap the royalties that come from the sale of those pictures. The photographers generously donate their royalties and Getty Images donates a portion of its share of the sales.

The cost: CEF, which has no employees and only one person who contracts part-time, incurs some expenses to set up the photo shoots and minimal administrative costs. The rest is dedicated to CEF’s many charitable missions.

The upside: an ongoing stream of revenue that eliminates most of the fundraising headaches experienced by other charities and non-profits.

Robert Brown has been chair of the board of directors for CEF for the better part of three years. He and a majority of the other board members bring sound business backgrounds to an organization that was founded on a strong economic base from the outset. He and the board have a very clear mission and vision, which is to ‘leverage’ everything they can so they work in a sustainable way and maximize efficiencies.

  • Photographers donate their time and the royalties from their photographs and many of the crews and producers also donate their time or charge less than market rates. I ask Robert if photographers participated in the shoot to achieve more recognition but he said that his view was ‘the vast majority do it because they have great skills and this is a way for them to use the skills for an altruistic purpose’. “Besides,” he adds, “they have a lot of fun on the shoots.”
  • Getty Images markets the photographs through its normal channels, doing what Getty Images does best and freeing up CEF to promote within the creative community and attract some of the best stock photographers in the world.
  • As Getty Images receives a portion of the sale proceeds, both it and CEF benefit from the sales which helps the relationship thrive. Instead of Getty Images simply donating, it has a clear business benefit which is a ‘win win’ for both sides, says Robert.
  • When CEF started its first project in Guatemala, the organization was very hands on. But it quickly realized that this method was expensive and inefficient, especially when CEF started looking at countries where it had no prior experience. So it changed its business model. Now, wherever possible, CEF partners with other qualified agencies in the field. This allows CEF to reduce duplication of resources and energy and thereby maximize its results.

The result is a perfect circle with each link in the circle doing what it does best: photographers taking the photographs, Getty Images selling the images, CEF managing and directing the use of funds, and in-the-field groups carrying out CEF’s mission. The leveraging even carries over into downstream activities, such as in Sierra Leone where senior students are trained to teach younger ones. The senior students learn leadership and tutoring skills and receive compensation which helps keep them in school.

Advantages over traditional fundraising are both obvious and subtle. Among the obvious, is that the Foundation does not have to spend its energy chasing dollars from weary donors but instead can focus on its real mandate which is effecting change in third world countries. Among the more subtle but, in Robert Brown`s mind, more important advantage is that they can stay focussed on the best place to use their funds. By not having to choose their projects to attract donors or to change them to respond to donor views (something that Robert calls ‘mission creep’), they stay focussed on the best place to spend their dollars.

As you might expect from an operation with a business base, CEF approaches the future with the same keen eye for the bottom-line. It is continuously examining how it can improve and become a more strategic organization. It is exploring other revenue-generating opportunities. And this year it is turning its attention to other potential partnerships, donors and organizations that might enable even more of CEF’s funds to be available for its missions.

Robert Brown sums up CEF by saying, “Our concept is a cultural shift and a change in the way we view intellectual property rights. CEF is about artists and agents collaborating for a better cause.”

Next Compassionate Eye post: CEF’s strategy at work …

All photographs courtesy of Compassionate Eye.

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