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4 Ways to Make Your Nonprofit's Photography Stand Out

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nonprofit's photography

We’ve all heard the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words” right? And we have all seen a picture that truly tells a story. A picture that evokes emotion. A picture that compels us to do something. And yet if there is one thing that I see lacking on most nonprofit websites it’s compelling pictures.

Now before I give my advice and critiques I do come to this with a little bit of history. I’ve been a professional photographer for over 10 years and I say that just to give a bit of credibility to my thoughts. I’ve looked at hundreds of thousands of images over the years and there are some common themes in all of them that I’d like to share. 

An image can compel action, and that can be a game changer for any nonprofit. So here are my 4 thoughts on how to make your nonprofit’s photography stand out above the rest.

1. Don’t use stock photos. Please. Please. Stop. If there is one thing that instantly kills emotional connection to a cause, it’s stock photos. We all know they are stock. You aren’t fooling anyone. Those fake smiles, pristine vistas and groups of strangers laughing together won’t connect a donor to your cause. You already have someone in your organization, or someone that is connected to your organization that can take amazing pictures. Just ask. They’ll love to help out.

2. Capture emotion. If there is one thing I have learned in all my years of taking pictures, it’s that emotion is popular. Capturing the tear that is on the cheek of the father of the bride or capturing the laugh of a child as she is running at the park. All these images make people pause. As you take pictures of your organization, make sure they make you pause. Because that pause is really important.

3. Tell a story. Pictures that tell a story are the kind that are “worth a thousand words.” Don’t just take a picture of a child or a tree or a building. Be intentional. Show the child next to his parents, next to a well that is in need of repair. Show a tree in a forest next to a sign that indicates a road is expanding into a state park. Show the building that is being renovated, but also highlight what that will look like for the neighborhood as a whole. Tell a story. Think of all the iconic pictures you have ever looked at and I guarantee they have a story within the image.

4. Show the need. I recently went to a conference where Tom Ahern spoke about donor communication. He had some things to say about pictures so this one I can’t take credit for. Show the need. Whatever your need is as an organization, show it. People are more likely to respond when they see a need. Innate in our DNA is this desire to help, but if the only thing we see on your website is stock photography of smiling faces and open fields, that’s not going to compel me to do much. But if I see emotional pictures that tell a story AND give me an opportunity to help, that’s more effective!

I hope these tips have helped hone your focus on how you are communicating with pictures. We live in an age where taking amazing pictures is easier than ever. So please, invest in your images. Invest in your stories. It works. Because I’ve seen it happen.

A quick final story. A few months ago I was asked to shoot images for a faith based organization that was starting a reentry program. Men coming out of prison usually go to a state run reentry program but a local church wanted to start a similar program where the men worked around the community and helped with upkeep of the church. I knew many of the people on staff so of course I was excited to help. We were intentional. I tried to tell the story of the church and the men who were in the program as best I could. Right around that time Indianapolis had an annual contest where all the local nonprofits competed against each other to see how much money they could raise for their organization. The one with the highest money raised won the contest and got an additional large donation from the organization running the contest. Guess who came in at #2 of all the organizations (many very large and very well established I might add) in Indianapolis? Our new reentry program.

I’m not going to say that it was my pictures that made all the difference. They have a compelling mission and are doing amazing work in Indianapolis. But when you have a compelling mission AND images that compel to action, you have a winning combination.

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