Hear the inspirational story of how Lisa Prince Fishler, a creative with a cause, went from having a photography business to starting a nonprofit based on her passion for saving shelter animals, how they are making a difference and how you can get involved with their organization or your own cause.
- My CafePress store to support shelter animals
- My Zazzle store to support shelter animals
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A passionate artist, pet photographer and animal advocate, Lisa Prince Fishler is the founder and executive director of HeARTs Speak, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that is dedicated to inspiring change for homeless animals through programs that leverage creativity and collaboration to ensure more animals are seen and saved while simultaneously elevating the image of shelter animals everywhere.
HeARTs Speak also has a stock imagery project called Images with HeART, which merges the promotion of pet adoption with a sustainable and ethical platform for artists to license their work.
Getting to Know Lisa
Colleen Gratzer: Welcome to the podcast, Lisa. I’m so happy to finally talk to you today.
Lisa Prince Fishler: Hey, Colleen. Thank you so much for having me on your show. It is such an honor and I’m really excited to be here as well.
Colleen: Awesome. Let’s start off with a few fun questions and the first one is: do you have a secret talent?
Lisa: I do actually.
Colleen: Do tell.
Lisa: I can rebuild a carburetor. I actually used to fiddle with cars when I was a teenager. So I have some mechanical skills.
Colleen: Oh. That is really cool. Well, my husband builds transmissions. He’ll be really excited to hear that.
Lisa: Awesome. Oh my god. Yeah, I can still remember the firing order of a VH Chevy.
Colleen: Oh, wow.
Lisa: Really useless now, but you know.
Colleen: That’s funny. Well, I like the sound of the Mustangs and the older muscle cars and stuff. But I don’t know too much about under the hood.
Lisa: Oh my gosh, yes. I used to love the sound as well and now loud cars drive me crazy.
Colleen: And if you were in a TV show or movie, which one would you want to be in?
Lisa: Good question. I really love the show called “This Is Us” that’s on right now. I like how they transition between different times, forwards and backward.
There’s something about that show I really like. I can’t give you a good answer why.
Colleen: Well, it’s really funny how we got connected. I want to just share that with everyone because I’m a huge animal lover.
I don’t do as much as I used to because of work. But I have always been a big animal advocate. I have for about I think 12 years now.
I sell products with my designs on them and then I donate the proceeds to animal rescues and to shelters. That’s my pet project. My big thing.
When I saw you on Instagram… I came across Images with HeART on Instagram. I love the photos. I love what you all are doing.
That really caught my eye. And yeah, it was very cool to see that.
Lisa: Oh, thank you so much. We have to get you on board. We have graphic designers.
Colleen: Yes, yes.
Lisa’s Photography Background
Colleen: So your background is actually in photography?
Lisa: It is, it is.
Colleen: You did that for 15 years?
Lisa: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I always picked up cameras, but, I really started professionally around 15 years ago.
Colleen: And then you had a photography business that you were working in at the time, right?
Lisa: Yes, Printz Photography. The website is still up, but ironically, I’m not taking that many pictures myself.
A Creative With a Cause
Colleen: What made you change direction and then get into starting a nonprofit organization? Doing this cause work and helping shelter animals? How did that all come about?
Lisa: Well, I fell madly in love with a dog. I think you might be able to relate to that.
Colleen: Yes, it all starts with just one, I think.
Lisa: It really does.
In 2005, I adopted an amazing dog named Iggy. He led me–because of him I learned about the problems facing homeless animals.
So what I did was I picked up my camera and I went to the local rescue. I started volunteering my services to getting other dogs and cats into homes.
Colleen: Shelters normally have terrible pictures. And so to have somebody that’s a good photographer, take good pictures really makes a difference.
Lisa: It’s just that they don’t have the time and that’s not what their focus is.
Definitely, their photos make a difference, and me going in, that being my primary focus was helpful. That’s not to say, I’m the only person who was going into shelters and rescues either.
I learned that only 25 to 30% of pets living in U.S. homes are adopted from a shelter. I wanted to do something to help their image.
There’s a huge opportunity here when there’s such a small percentage being adopted.
I don’t have a background in animal welfare. I’m a photographer. I’m just one person, but I’m stubborn and I’m a problem solver.
Ultimately, the networker and collaborator in me took over. There didn’t use to be, you know, 15 years ago, as many pet photographers as there are today.
I kept running into barriers to collaboration with the ones that I did reach out to.
In 2009, I started a Facebook group called HeARTs Speak, with the goal of giving voice to animals through art.
I was really just seeking other people who, like myself, would kind of put ego’s aside, and come together for the sake of the animals.
Within a couple of months, hundreds of people were joining the group.
Colleen: Oh, wow.
Lisa: It was amazing. It was almost like this space was created, and there was a need, and people can come to it.
As a result, our flagship program, artists helping animals was born.
In 2010, we became officially recognized as a nonprofit with a mission to unite art and advocacy to increase the visibility of shelter animals.
Colleen: That’s amazing.
Lisa: Yeah, it was kind of just the timing was right, the timing was right.
Going Full Time
Colleen: That’s really cool. I’ve always thought about what if I made my shelter stores a full-time job. I would never be able to support myself.
But you’ve actually been able to do that, right? You were working full-time as a photographer and then you got into this full-time, right?
Lisa: Yeah, yeah. So there were many years actually, though.
In the beginning, there was no salary. But we became official in 2010, and then we hired staff in 2015. It was a struggle. But a labor of love, absolutely.
Colleen: What did you do to get yourself out there, so you could start making revenue with this organization?
Lisa: Well, as a nonprofit we followed the traditional means, getting grants from foundations, sponsorship from corporations, and donations from individual donors.
We asked for an annual donation of $50 from each of our artist members. We’ve had the numbers vary, but between 5 and 600 members annually.
In addition, as you mentioned before, we launched our own stock library, which is growing. But it’s still in its infancy.
But mainly grants and donations.
Colleen: Tell me about the stock library, how you came about creating that and then getting other designers and photographers involved and other creatives.
Lisa: Our members are volunteering their services pro bono in shelters and rescues everywhere.
I always say it’s okay to get paid, and so we’re always looking for ways.
Colleen: It’s always okay to get paid.
Lisa: It’s so important, right?
We just had this idea to start the stock library. It’s open to our members, and we offer a really competitive licensing fee.
We pay 50% rather than what some other agencies do.
Colleen: That’s nice.
Lisa: I just think, I mean, me personally, if I had the choice of getting photos from a large stock agency versus a nonprofit organization that’s saving animals, I would go for the nonprofit.
Colleen: Right, nothing to think about there.
Lisa: We just think it’s a great idea and a great way for members to make income.
Colleen: You also have other ways that designers and other creatives can help too, right?
Lisa: We do. Photographers go into the shelters, and they take photos. Well, pre-covid, photographers were going into the shelters and photographing the animals there.
As far as graphic designers and illustrators, they have many different ways they can help. Some will, I think you were saying that you donate a percentage of what you sell.
Colleen: I just donate it all. But I don’t make that much on it.
Lisa: Right. But that helps, every little bit helps.
This past year one of our most successful fundraisers was a portrait fundraiser. It was a portrait and GIF fundraiser, and it was just this one-off and we’d never done it before.
Did you notice some of the shelters and rescues were doing those ugly portrait fundraisers?
People who work at the shelter who don’t really have design skills were drawing GIFs of your dog for a donation or your cat.
Well, anyway, Caitlin, whom I work with, said “If you’ve seen these fundraisers, we should try it.”
Because we have actual illustrators and designers as members, we offered illustrations and GIFs.
And oh my gosh, we had four artists working with us. So we had to kind of tone down the promotion because we were just getting too many requests coming in for too few artists.
Colleen: Oh, wow.
Lisa: We plan on doing it again. But we’re looking for more artists to join.
It was hugely successful. That, and then designing calendars, and there are many ways for people of working in different mediums to help.
Then there are things that you wouldn’t even think you put a design on that are strange things. Well, there’s a shower curtain.
If somebody wants to buy that they can buy it. There are home goods, there are all kinds of things.
Lisa: Yeah, no, absolutely. It’s funny. I’ve seen pillow covers. There’s a lot of things that people will buy. Animals are great design material.
Colleen: Yeah, yeah, I have a lot of sayings that are animal and pet-related too. “Dogs leave paw prints on our hearts,” and then I have a cat version, and then things like that.
Lisa: Another really fun way to raise money is through t-shirts. We use a lot of those t-shirt fundraising platforms.
There’s something in it for the donor. It’s not all about helping us to support our programs, they’re getting something as well. So I think that’s fun.
Resources for Animal Shelters
Colleen: Other than photography, you provide other resources to shelters, don’t you?
Lisa: Yes. So let me back up because we’ve got artists helping animals, was our first program, right?
If we have 500 members in the 13… there are 13,000 shelters across the country.
Out of those 13,000, we have members in maybe a third, or just under a third. That means there’s still a significant amount that doesn’t have a photographer in them.
With that in mind, we started a program called the Perfect Exposure Project. And so what we’re doing, and I say this past tense because of covid everything’s a little on hold.
Lisa: But we would go to shelters across the country, and donate gear–cameras, lenses, lights, and then teach 2-day workshop.
We would teach photography and leave the equipment behind. We would also teach marketing.
My background is in photography. Our director of operations, Caitlin has a background in animal welfare, specifically marketing, because language is so important.
We’re beyond Sarah McLachlan now. We don’t want people to be sad and feel sorry.
We want them to come into the shelters because they’re not as sad as that those commercials make them to be, right?
Lisa: I mean, that doesn’t help.
Lisa: And so the perfect exposure project also called PEP, it’s easier to say. PEP empowers the shelters themselves.
In addition to that, we’ve got EDU, which is an online platform of digital resources.
We have everything from overlays to short one-page flyers on writing better pet bio’s or, photography, instructional photography flyers and videos, and whatnot.
We try to cover the whole gamut.
Colleen: Yeah, the buyers are so important. The buyers on the photos, can go a really long way.
Lisa: Absolutely. Focusing on the positive that’s what we try to do.
HeARTs Speak Membership
Colleen: So how does the membership work?
Lisa: Why join HeARTs Speak?
I feel like we’re more powerful united. To have a united voice, and to have the background–and I’ll mention Caitlin again–that she brings to it.
Getting everybody united and with the same because you don’t want conflicting opinions…
Colleen: With the same goal.
Lisa: Yes, yes. In order to be effective. because it’s definitely… it can be a polarizing field.
I think that it’s constantly changing, and we at HeARTs Speak always have one foot firmly in animal welfare. Learning all the new trends.
I just feel like we’re more effective because of that. Also for selfish reasons, if you believe in what we’re doing, and what we’re achieving.
Then to join us, you’re helping us to then provide these resources to shelters and rescues at no charge for them.
Our membership is quite affordable. It’s never changed. It’s never gone up.
Colleen: So what is included in that membership?
Lisa: As a member, you have access to member exclusive resources. We’ve got overlays and instructional videos that are not available to the public.
There are also member discounts for different products. You also get your information put on our world map so shelters and rescues can find you or whomever.
We’ve got Images with HeART, you can only contribute to that if you’re a member.
If a vendor comes to Images with HeART, and they don’t see what they want, we also point them back to our artist’s map.
Because I think there’s a difference between somebody well versed in photographing animals versus not–when you have an animal-related project. People do get jobs through that, as well.
Colleen: I was just thinking, do you provide any training to the photographers to go into the shelter and understand how to work with the animals?
Because some people think it’s okay to just go up and stare at a dog’s face, or they go up to a dog and they’re staring down at it.
There are certain things that you don’t want to do with your posture.
Lisa: Yeah, we do have resources on kind of best practices.
We consistently say, take the cues from the dog or the cat. Don’t force them to do something.
These are client photos. These are… it’s very different when you’re in an environment–a shelter environment.
It’s different from somebody’s home. But absolutely respect them and see what they’ll give you.
Colleen: Yeah, because in the shelter they’re nervous. They’re on edge.
Lisa: Exactly. There are some cringy things that happen. Don’t put your face in that dog’s face. Even a kind, sweet dog, when they’re afraid, and you just don’t know. Or don’t pick them up.
Colleen: Right. And you have another project, right?
Lisa: We have this great project that we’re just getting off the ground called Seen = Saved.
We started in July of 2019. We went to L.A. In one day, we photographed all of the animals in seven L.A. county care centers. So that was 1200 animals.
Lisa: It was actually amazing. 1004 dogs and cats were adopted in that week after the event, and that was up 30% from the year before.
There are just so many benefits to this kind of event that I loved. We had professional photographers who had never volunteered their services before coming to do this with us.
People who just had their cell phones. But the awareness that it raised of, you know, on any given day.
There are this many animals in the shelter’s system, and 25% of them are purebred, contrary to what a lot of people might think. Purebred or not because I personally like hybrid mutts.
Colleen: I do too. They have a unique look.
Lisa: Right? Yeah, they’re smart. They’re unique.
But every time I go into a shelter, it’s like I’m going in for the first time and I’m just sitting there in awe of how perfect they are.
And I think the top 15 reasons an animal ends up in a shelter is human-related.
Colleen: Oh, totally. Yeah.
Lisa: You know, and so they’re like, good dogs and cats. Amazing dogs and cats in the shelter.
Colleen: And fully trained.
Lisa: Fully trained. Oh my gosh, I mean, the last dog I adopted, Gulliver, who was an adult dog when we adopted him was the best.
I mean, so perfectly trained, he would do a sit/stay, I could walk a thousand feet away from him.
He was just perfect. I couldn’t… and these dogs are in shelters. We had the one in L.A. and then just before covid another one in Phoenix.
There are 550 animals adopted in a day and there are 40 photographers.
Colleen: Oh, wow.
Lisa: Yeah. So it’s just something else that we have and would like to continue doing.
But it’s really all about getting people to work together and collaborate for the sake of the animals. I think that and of course, raising awareness.
Colleen: That’s great. Well, this whole story, I mean, I love it. Because we’re cut from the same cloth when it comes to pets and saving animals.
Lisa: I know.
Colleen: I hope that other creatives listening are inspired by this.
If pets aren’t their thing or saving animals isn’t their thing, they might have another passion that they want to pursue and make a career out of that.
Lisa: Yes, I totally believe that what makes us unique, what we’re passionate about, should align with what we’re doing.
Colleen: Yes, I love that. What a great saying to end with. So let everybody know where they can find you and sign up if they want to be a member.
Lisa: Okay, so heartsspeak.org. There are two S’s in the middle there.
And we—if you are listening to this podcast—are offering a 25% discount on your first year of membership. That code is aha2021.
Also, check out Images with HeART, please. That’s the stock library.
Colleen: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for coming on, Lisa. I really enjoyed this.
Lisa: Thank you, Colleen. Thank you for having me and I enjoyed it.