nonprofit communications

Show Don’t Tell in Nonprofit Communications

Choosing the right digital medium for fundraising ventures has never been so important. With the entire world online and on social media daily, using visual storytelling will help your nonprofit connect with the right supporters. 

There are many options when it comes to visual storytelling. You can use a single still image to tell a story or utilize slide shows, video vlogs and short films to quickly and powerfully convey your nonprofit’s message, mission and impact. 

Let’s start with still-photography.

To be quite frank, there is no excuse not to utilize the power of photos in your efforts with nonprofit communications. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Nowadays, most of us have high-quality camera phones in our pockets and are able to provide a great deal of personalized media without hardly spending a cent. Even every day, casual photos can go a long way in connecting your audience to your mission by helping them physically visualize what is taking place and who is being served.

That said, using a professional photographer to capture what you want to communicate about your organization or events is also definitely an option. High quality images speak for themselves and in some cases, professionally done images are a better option. However, hiring someone whose skills will help deliver your vision doesn’t have to be expensive. 

PRO TIP: Fiver (the freelance hire app) is a great tool for sourcing cheap and well-practiced photographers/videographers and editors. Also, you could try searching local hashtags on Instagram as these can connect your nonprofit with affordable and enthusiastic visual artists in your local area. If a photographer is just starting out or is passionate about your mission, they may even cut you a deal or do the job pro-bono. Remind them that their donation of time and talent is tax-deductible too! 

Stock photography is also a very versatile and available option via free sites like Unsplash or paid sites like Shutterstock or Getty Images. If you’re using stock images, remember to source ones which appear authentic. Go for images which appear real and not too staged. Stock photography can also come in handy if you need to protect the identities of those your nonprofit serves.

Let’s move onto the power of video.

Videos are a highly effective form of storytelling. Interviews, slide shows, and behind the scenes footage all really invite your audience to join you on a journey. We all know how important music, voice, and motion can be in activating our emotions and the more we can engage our audiences on an emotional level, the more likely they are to take action in your cause.

If you’re going to use video or create a slideshow to share at your next event or on your social media, there are many useful do-it-yourself apps which are easy and free!

PRO TIP: Youcut is a great app and free to download. It takes minutes to learn and once opened, you can add your video, audio, and mix images with text to create a powerful presentation. It’s never been easier. 

Remember, you can also hire a professional videographer to help create videos or produce online events, which are especially important to nail in this digital age. 

What Shots to Share in Your Nonprofit Communications

Good images tell their own tale, but creating goals and a plan for what you want your audience to take away from your nonprofit communications is important to success.  

Here’s a few practical tips for visual storytelling: 

  • Keep your focus on the desired audience. Frame the image to the viewer and their perspective wherever possible. Just as you would be careful what images you show children, the same is true of adults. Consider demographics, socio-economic, gender, health, and history; they all are worth taking into account when illustrating your story with visual media.
  • Focus on a simple but linear goal. Complicated messages and stories lose audience interest. 
  • Intersect facts with the emotional imagery. Try to share photos that are practical and show what you do while conveying deep emotion and experience. Action shots and videos are great for this.
  • Use the singularity effect. An image of an individual is typically more powerful than an image of many when it comes to storytelling. A close-up of a singular smile or emotion in the eyes can provide great emotional impact and increase the likelihood of engagement. Similarly, when telling a story via video, try to focus on just one or two subjects to avoid too much character confusion. 
  • Backstory is the fertile earth from which empathy grows. Give your organization depth and history through your images whenever possible. Can you share “throwback” photos of your staff, those you serve, or even your facility?
  • Everyone loves good transformation photos. How can you show the transformations your organization facilitates? Whether it is a community garden project, a healthier human being, or an artistic venture – consider capturing before and after photos. When telling a story, it is all about the struggle and the triumph. Transformation photos are perfect for this. 

When it comes to visual storytelling, practice makes perfect. Don’t become discouraged if you don’t know what to share at first or don’t feel your visuals are “high-quality.” Anything is better than nothing! Share a variety of photos and videos to see what your audience responds to best. In the end, it is undeniable that visual media is one of our best tools to help donors truly see “the bigger picture.”

Madison Gonzalez

Madison Gonzalez

Advancement Director at Morning Light, Inc.
Madison Gonzalez is a National Public Speaker, Storyteller of the Year Award-Winner, Best-Selling Author of Dear Mirror, Events Manager, and Published Poet. She is also the Advancement Director at Morning Light, Inc., and Indianapolis-based nonprofit that fosters community programs in Indiana for the terminally ill, seniors, families and the home-bound. As a storytelling coach and consultant, it is her mission to empower others to share their stories for impact and income. Madison can be reached at madison@toldcoaching.com.