Entrepreneur Offers Chance To Use Family Photos To Fund-Raise

By Diane Mastrull The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Gov. Christie's budget ax might have fallen heavily on schools four years ago, but for teacher Amy Wiker it was entrepreneurial inspiration.

Only afterward came the tough reality that way more is required for business success. And that was followed by a change in strategy.

It's too early to tell whether the 46-year-old Medford Lakes mother of two is now on the right track. She has no plans to quit her teaching job, where the idea of starting a business first occurred to her.

In 2012, state funding cuts had led to the elimination of the athletic program at Wiker's school, Neeta Elementary in Medford Lakes, where she teaches fifth grade. Parents picked up the slack, creating an organization of volunteers to fund a sports program.

While at home vacuuming one day, Wiker stopped to check her email and found a group message from a parent willing to share pictures he had taken at their daughters' recent lacrosse game.

He was offering to share the user name to his Internet-based photo-publishing account. (Wiker can't remember whether it was Shutterfly or some other site.)

"I said, 'My gosh, all these parents snapping these pictures with their phones and cameras and sharing them. Why can't we turn them into fund-raising?' "

From that moment came not only a clean carpet but FundPhotos.com, which was launched in September 2013. It offered what no other photo-sharing site did: the ability for users to help fund a charitable organization through their orders.

With each purchase of a product personalized with photos customers stored on FundPhotos -- such as calendars, coffee mugs, greeting cards, or T-shirts -- customers could direct 10 percent of the sale price to one of the nearly 30 charities listed on the site.

Though the website attracted "several thousand visitors," Wiker said, total sales had amounted to only "a couple thousand dollars" by May of this year, when she took the site offline.

"I had emotionally run out and financially run out of steam," said Wiker, who had invested $85,000, partly by cashing in a 401(k) from previous employment in environmental regulatory management for manufacturing and engineering firms.

Habit was one of FundPhotos' primary obstacles to growth, she said.

"People were saying, 'I have all my photos up on Shutterfly,' " Wiker said. "That was the biggest challenge: to try to get people to use FundPhotos who were already established with Shutterfly."

There were also software limitations. For instance, if a user was on FundPhotos.com designing a calendar from pictures and had to stop mid-project, there was no option for saving the work. "On Shutterfly, you could."

Wiker's husband, Thomas, a maritime consultant, lauded her efforts and took her on a business trip to Rome, without their kids.

"I had a lot of time to reflect," she said. "When I came back, I did what I'd thought I'd never do and I contacted Shutterfly."

The result: FundPhotos was accepted into Shutterfly's "storefront affiliates" program, with Wiker's original mission of helping nonprofits intact. That new relationship, and a redesigned FundPhotos website, debuted Oct. 1.

It's a mutually beneficial relationship. FundPhotos.com patrons become a potential new market for Shutterfly. In return, FundPhotos can offer customers discounts available to Shutterfly merchant affiliates, Wiker said. Shutterfly coupons also are applicable to FundPhotos orders.

Of more than 1,000 storefront affiliates, none uses photos as a niche for fund-raising, said Erin Routzahn, of Acceleration Partners in Boston, which runs merchant programs for companies, including Shutterfly.

Shutterfly will pay FundPhotos a 13 percent commission on each sale, Routzahn said. FundPhotos will divert 5 percent of proceeds on any sale to designated charities.

Among them is Clayton's Hope Organization in Turnersville, which has raised more than $100,000 for epilepsy research since 2005.

"I am just happy to always get a different marketing venue to let people know what we do and let people know we're there if they need us," said founder Shelby Myers. Her son Clayton, who died in 2012, inspired the group.

Myers is optimistic about the potential for FundPhotos to help her raise money, for essentially the same reason Wiker started the business: "Everybody takes pictures."

Without disclosing sales specifics, Wiker is upbeat, too.

October was "the first month we actually worked in the black," she said.

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