Rebecca Wilks

Rebecca Wilks; Photographer, Teacher, Yarnellian, Do-Gooder

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Use Your Photographic Powers for Good: Nonprofit Collaborations

 This article originally appeared in the April/May issue of Focal Points Magazine.

Early morning commuter and reflection of the famous Arco in La Antigua Guatemala

Last May I attended my first NANPA (North American Nature Photography) Summit in Tucson.  I heard a talk from Russell Graves, an engaging photographer from Texas who works to support conservation in a wetland area near his home.  He made the point that supporting a cause is easy and very fulfilling, and that we need look no further than our backyards.


Save the Dells

Drone image of Highway 89 through the narrow section of Granite Dells in Prescott Arizona; too beautiful to dynamite.

I was inspired by Mr. Graves and made a commitment to contact the leadership of an outfit called Save the Dells which primarily works on conservation in Prescott Arizona, 35 miles from my home. When I first met with their leadership, we talked about their photography needs and I made some suggestions about what I have to offer, especially drone imaging.  I’ve since worked with them in opposition to a road-widening project which would require blasting of iconic granitic boulders and in support of a new regional park which would preserve critical open space. I’ve been collaborating with them for just a short time but am looking forward to a long fruitful partnership.

 Driving home from that first meeting I realized that, though this seemed like an epiphany at NANPA, in fact I’ve been doing this sort of thing for some time. I just hadn’t thought of this work as a goal nor realized how fulfilling it is.  I’ll share a few more examples.


Cooperative for Education

A lovely, colorful student in La Hoya, Guatemala

My husband and I have supported a Guatemalan NGO for about 15 years.  Cooperative for Education (COED) is dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty in Guatemala through education.  I wasn’t thinking of photography when we started working with them, but the partnership seems obvious now, after about 150 days in the country.

When in Guatemala with COED, we spend a great deal of time in rural schools and surrounding villages.  There is social time (convivencia), the unavoidable talks from administrative types, and cultural performances from the kids.  These range from sedate folk dances to performances which involve fireworks strapped to a costume or simulated Mayan human sacrifice. The images from these visits are not only useful assets for the organization, but also icebreakers with the kids.  We all love to look at the photos on my camera’s LCD screen and before long I have a tight circle of kids around me, looking at photos and asking me to also take pictures of them.


A favorite rural street image from Santa Catarina Palopo, Guatemala

Another of the delights of volunteer travel with COED is access to street portraiture in rural areas.  Parents and grandparents are coaxed into a sense of comfort with me, the strange photographer, because they know why we’re there and trust me more than they would the average tourist.  Even outside the schools, Guatemalans are happy to engage and have their pictures taken.

Through Each Other’s Eyes


A feral dog warms up on the lava on Pacaya, an active volcano in Guatemala

The deep dive into Guatemalan culture got me interested in becoming an Associate Photographer for Through Each Other’s Eyes, which promotes cultural understanding through photography.  We do international photographer exchanges and host exhibits of the resulting work created by photographers from both countries.  We also do educational events like photography instruction for kids and volunteer activities like annual portraits for underserved schools.

The Phoenix exhibit of 80 images from all four photographers on the Guatemala exchange.

My first TEOE exchange was with Guatemala.  I was in a unique position to organize it because of the connections made while traveling there.  I hope to participate in one of our upcoming exchanges to Himeji Japan or Cypress and Greece.

Yarnell Regional Community Center

Community fundraiser for Meals on Wheels in Yarnell Arizona

Yarnell, Arizona is my small-town home.  I’ve been volunteering to photograph events at the Yarnell Regional Community Center for some time.

A Meals on Wheels client and her beloved chihuahua.

Recently I’ve been hired to work on a project for our rural Meals on Wheels Program at the Center.  We’re operating under a grant from Meals on Wheels America and PetSmart to help our clients manage food and veterinary care for their pets.  Many of these folks have few resources, so a bit of help goes a long way. Studies show that pets are very beneficial for older people living alone and we know that they sometimes must choose between paying for their needs or the animal’s.

Veterinarian Kate McCullough cares for a Meals on Wheels client’s dog.

This project aims to make the effort sustainable with printed materials and video, and I’ve had the pleasure of contributing still and video assets, some made with the drone, as well as some work in graphic design.

Perspective pulls on heartstrings for conservation in this drone image of the Peavine Trail and Watson Lake in Prescott Arizona.

How to start

Interested in getting involved yourself? It’s easier than you might think to get started.  Perhaps you already volunteer with a local conservation, humanitarian, or animal welfare organization. Maybe you support an international cause or have a connection with another country because of your heritage.  These are great places to start brainstorming what you have to offer and having conversations with the group’s leadership.

Next, consider your strengths and what you enjoy as well as what you’d like to learn more about.  Maybe portraits of animals for rescue groups, landscape work for conservation organizations, or travel work for international NGOs will suit you.  Sometimes you discover skills as you go along.  I never knew I had a talent for graphic design until I agreed to give it a try for the YRCC pet project, and I’ve also been learning a bit of video editing.

If you’re still baffled, remember that most of these opportunities come from your own connections.  Who do you know that works with an interesting nonprofit or perhaps just knows lots of people doing interesting things?  Buy that person lunch and see where the conversation goes.


Best Friends at a school in Chimaltenango Guatemala.

Don’t be afraid of a cold call.  After all, you’re offering them something of value.  Likewise, be willing to follow up, sometimes several times.  Nonprofit leaders can be more focused on putting out fires than being proactive. Be sure to be clear that you’re a volunteer. Sometimes sharing a resume is helpful to show that you’re legitimate and help leadership see your skills and experience.

When you have that first meeting, be prepared.  Review their website and know what the current projects are.  Take some time beforehand to brainstorm what you can offer.  For example, I’ve enjoyed contributing aerial images to several projects. You might also consider portraiture, landscape work, behind-the-scenes images, and video.  Think outside the box as well and include things like public relations, events, and social media work, as well as graphic design and video editing.

As your partnership continues, attend meetings. If you have the time and inclination, you’ll be glad you did. More than once discussions in the meetings have sparked a new idea that would not have otherwise occurred to me.

Why Do This?

Mostly, I’d point to fun and fulfillment.  That’s what many of us are looking for when we reach the season in our lives when we have experience to share and perhaps some uncommitted time.  I’ve also seen some incredible places and made connections with amazing people that would not otherwise have come about.  Additionally, these projects focused my photographic learning and problem-solving skills.  I certainly have gained as much as I’ve given.



  1. Rebecca, I have stopped being amazed by your contributions to the betterment of the world. But I am just as awed. It is an honor to know you and Marco and to be able to call you my friends.

    1. Oh, Lee. Thanks so much for your kind words. This stage of life is just so much fun!