I am frequently asked to give my photography free, usually for some "worthy cause." There are many worthy causes, but that doesn't mean I can afford to give my work away. And we might have a different take on what is worthy. Selling photographs is how I live, just as a plumber lives by unclogging pipes. You wouldn't ask a plumber to unclog your drain for free, would you? Non-profit groups often ask for free photos to use in their magazine or publicity materials. Do they also ask the paper supplier to donate the paper? What about the printer? Does the graphic designer work for free? Does the U.S. Postal Service deliver the material for free? The agency pays for all of these things without hesitation, but asks the photographer to give away what is often the most important element of the publication.
One photo editor at a FOR-PROFIT magazine said she had hundreds of photographers lined up who were willing to give photos to her for use on the cover. She wanted to know why she should pay for the photograph she wanted of mine. I respectfully told her to call one of those hundreds of photographers. This person—and many others who ask for free photos—said she would provide me with a photo credit, as if that is incentive enough for not being paid. First, a photo credit is expected with any editorial usage, paid or not. Second, I'm the quintessential struggling artist. I don't need my name on a byline. I need it on a check.
Now, with that said, let me add this. If photography wasn't my business, I'd happily accommodate all the causes that I feel are worthy. And even though I depend on payment in order to eat, I often make exceptions. And sometimes non-profits can offer good incentives other than money, such as access to off-limit sites. I've worked well with a number of land trusts, environmental groups, and public resource officials over the years making nature and landscape photos for their campaigns. So if you're a non-profit and you have a worthy cause, please feel welcomed to ask.
But don't try that with the plumber. Those guys can be ruthless!.