1. What is The Giving Lens?

The Giving Lens is an organization – and a movement – that harnesses our passions for travel and photography, and allows us to approach them in a way that benefits amazing NGOs around the world. In short, we run travel photography workshops abroad, where part of the trip is partnered with an NGO in the area, and after the trip we share images, and profits, with them! Every trip is different – but each one is impactful and an adventure. When not with the NGO, we plan and execute an itinerary that caters to the travel photographer in you – whether budding, or pro, or anything in between. Read more here.

2. How does it work?

We run travel photography workshops, with a humanitarian twist. Every trip has 2 team leaders who guide photographers – of any skill level – through a place and culture. We scout and plan beautiful locations and usually work around the main draw of the country (Tanzania, safari; Cambodia, Angkor Wat; Peru, Machu Picchu; Jordan, Petra; and so forth!). From start to finish, the team lives and breathes photography, day and night. During these days, the Leaders will be available to field any questions you have, provide mini-lessons, and be available full-time to work with you one-on-one as you need it. We call this Collaborative Learning. Then, for part of the trip – usually 2-3 days – the team will work alongside a local non-profit organization to serve a community. Often this includes teaching very basic photography to a community in need, using cameras we fundraise before leaving. It also includes documenting the NGOs work and issues they face. The team will give back with their time, their compassion, and, of course, their photography. All who join us would never see these 2 or 3 days as a sacrafice from a vacation, but actually find it to be incredibly rewarding personally – and photographically. We are welcomed further into a culture than a normal tourist, have real, meaningful encounters, make unique images with powerful stories behind them, and walk away with full hearts knowing the power photography can have on a community.

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. 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. However, one of the goals of a TGL trip is to really experience a culture, so participants can expect a unique, but safe, “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 its 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. Click on the trip you are interested in, and then click on “Apply Now”.

5. How are applications selected?

We accept applications for a certain time period which is announced in our newsletter and on our social 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 only partly on a first-come-first-served basis – being considerate of those who were first to apply and maybe have waited a long time for the chance – 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.
Applicants have the option to interview before being offered a spot, or securing a spot with a deposit and have an interview later on to confirm it is a good fit. In the event we feel this isn’t the right trip for you, the deposit is fully refunded.

6. What is covered in the trip fee?

Trip fees vary from country to country but will include airport transfers, accommodation, transportation, activities, a translator or guide when needed, entrance fees to parks or sites, meals, and a solid donation to the non-profit organization. Essentially, everything once you leave the airport, til you go back to the airport (unless you extend your trip).

Trip fees do not include flights, visa and arrival fees, passport costs, travel vaccinations, alcoholic drinks, souvenirs, or travel insurance.

7. How does the NGO profit from a TGL trip?

First, the NGO receives 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. Often we teach photography to the community – even bringing in ten, twenty donated cameras – to inspire, uplift, encourage, support, and otherwise pour into the people. Photography is an incredible tool in this regard: you don’t need to read, write, or even speak the same language in order to “point” and “shoot.” It’s incredible what the power of creating an image can do for someone! Fourth, we donate the best 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. Seventh and most importantly, we share our profits with the NGO. This is anywhere from 10 to 50%. Why the range? Budget, mostly. We also make sure we have established a good relationship with the NGO and part of that is donating a smaller amount and seeing accountability for what it went to. We also want to be fair between all our NGOs and donate a ballpark similar amount as we go. And, of course, we consider the effort required by the NGO to host us – sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s a lot of work! At any rate, a hefty donation is made to the NGO knowing full well that cash is king and while photos are important and precious and impactful, they can’t pay the bills. 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?

Anywhere from 10% to 50% profits from the trip go right to the non-profit organization. [This depends on: enrollments, in-country costs, unexpected costs, and is judged against donations made to other countries to ensure all NGOs benefit to a similar extent. We also consider the effort required by the NGO to host us, and for first-time partners we want some accountability as to where the money goes before making a larger donation the 2nd time around).

The remaining profits return to The Giving Lens to do a number of things. 1) pay our small staff (currently 1 full time and 1 part time) a very (very) humble salary. It also covers administrative and various overhead costs, not limited to website maintenance, advertisements, taxes, software, accounting, banking, and other basic small business costs . We also must retain a comfortable buffer of funds for emergencies, year-end taxes, last-minute drop outs/cancellations, marketing, contests, and many other costs which add up over the course of a year.

9. What will I be able to write-off on my taxes?

We are not (yet) an NGO ourselves. We are for-profit-for-non-profit which gives us the most flexibility. If you run a small business as a photographer, you can write the trip off as educational, including your flight. Otherwise, refer to your country or state’s rules on volunteering and write offs. If you think about it, as majority of the trip is a formal photography workshop, it does make sense you cannot write off the entire thing. However, by offering this interesting hybrid we are able to make extremely unique and meaningful trips that benefit an NGO without sacrificing the very real desire to travel, grow your skills, and make beautiful images in incredible places.

10. Who leads the trips?

Teams are always lead by two professional photographers. Both will have ample experience in travel, photography, team leadership, and/or photo-education. While we were founded by Colby Brown, we must expand in order to offer more trips, raise more money, and explore new parts of the world. Trips with Colby will still be offered, but only 1 or 2 times a year, and at a premium, due to his extremely demanding schedule and expertise. Rest assured, all our team leaders are trail-blazers, adventurers, explorers, photographic masters, and amazing people.

11. What will I learn from the workshops?

Here at TGL we believe the purpose of the trip is to Give Back. The heart and soul is to leave an impact and be impacted. 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 Co-Leader 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 usually 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 The Giving Lens 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 shared with the NGO we partnered with. The portion we keep is to cover our administration costs, pay our small staff, grow our organization, and prepare for future trips. We are exploring 501c3 status.

13. Is TGL a Faith-Based Organziation

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 if a trip doesn't fill?

Each trip’s budget will dictate a minimum number of people required to break even. If we don’t hit that number for some reason, we can run the trip with an pretty mild increase in cost – how much depends on the trip, but it will be just enough to run the trip and make a small donation after.

15. What is your Refund Policy?

Our refund policy is based on the fact that when trips are less than 4-5 months away, it is extremely hard to fill a spot. A cancellation after the ffour-monthmark is financially stressful on us, as money has been wired to the country, and deposits paid based on a particular number of participants, and donations promised to the NGO. We cannot always get these funds back, plus loss of currency exchange, and the impact a cancellation has on the other costs of the trip. The truth is this: a cancellation almost always has a negative effect on the most important part of the trip – the donation to the NGO – so it is important we protect our bottom line for them, and for the quality of the trip for the rest of the participants.

These are reasonable terms, in place to protect our other participants, our partner NGO, and are en par with other tour company’s policies.

  1. If you cancel, conditions are as follows:
    1. Buyers remorse. You have 3 days to change your mind with no penalty.
    2. Cancelling with 6+ months to your trip: We will refund minus a $100 admin fee (processing, interviews, etc).
    3. Cancelling with 5+ months to your trip: the deposit is not refundable but we will transfer it 90% forward to a new trip of your choice (or hold it until you find a trip that suits you).
    4. Cancelling with less than 4 months to your trip: the deposit is not refundable nor transferable.
    5. If the team is full and there is a waitlist, and we are able to fill your spot, you may transfer most of your deposit forward.

  2. If we cancel: due to extreme weather, earthquakes, terrorism, political unrest, or other reasons beyond our control, we will refund you as much as we possibly can minus any unrecoverable costs. If we cancel due to the trip not filling up, we will refund you in full or transfer your deposit plus a discount incentive on a future trip. We are not liable for loss of flight costs, please purchase cancellation insurance – this may also cover tour cancellation as well.

  3. If we can’t fill up the team: If we are forced to consider cancelling due to not enough interest, we will first inquire if the team is willing to levy a higher trip fee to ensure the trip can run. For example, if we require 6 people to break even, but only have 5, we will ask the 5 to each pay 1/5th of the missing person’s cost in order to run the trip as planned. In the event we do this, and a 6th person applies unexpected, we will refund in full and return to the regular pricing. We are not liable for loss of flight costs, please do not purchase flights until we have confirmed minimum participation. If the team does not want to levy up, we will refund and beg your forgiveness for not being able to fill the trip.

**in some cases, to the discretion of TGL, if the participant can offer a suitable replacement for the trip (who must do an interview with us to confirm), the position on the team can be transferred to a new person and the finances worked out privately between you and them OR if you have to cancel, and the trip was at capacity, and if we can fill your spot, we will then transfer your deposit forward to any future trip.