We have all heard the old adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Like many good sayings, this one still holds true today. Images are truly a powerful communication tool and one that’s historically been underutilized or not used appropriately by nonprofit organizations. But that doesn’t have to be the case if you adhere to some key principles.
The effectiveness of photography shouldn’t be surprising. Humans are visual begins. We make sense out of the world to a large degree through sight and in fact, many people are characterized as visual learners.
According to a study by the Institute for Advancement of Research in Education, people better retain information when it’s presented to them in a visual way and they understand connections between ideas better through photos.
However, not all photos are created equal and nonprofits must use what I call strategic imagery in order to tell their organization’s story effectively and to showcase impact.
Here’s a preview of five ways to do just that:
1. Invest in photography, don’t make it an afterthought. Good photos go a long way. Hire a professional photographer or turn to a photography club for pro-bono help. Training field staff on effective photo techniques is also worthwhile since they are on the front lines.
2. Remember all forms of imagery, not just still, and combine them for maximum impact. Combining still imagery with audio or moving images with words creates even more of an effect.
3. Offer imagery through all your organization’s communication channels. Think about offering a “photo of the day” on your Facebook page, a slideshow area on your website, or create an in-person photo exhibit. Engage your key audiences through regular updates and foster a dialogue about the meaning behind the images. Pose questions but stay true to your overall key organizational messages.
4. Have your subjects tell their own story directly and unedited. Nothing can compare to an organization’s stakeholder directly telling the camera how much they have benefited from a program. This approach is storytelling at its best, and one discussed in more length through a case study about Doctors Without Borders in the webinar. Before-and-after images are also a good way to show impact over time.
5. Never forget a call to action! Good visuals are combined with a call to action. That can include an offer to learn more by viewing an article about a program, directing one to donate money, or simply to sign up for an e-newsletter. Your work is not complete if you have not given viewers something else to do after invoking that emotional connection through an image.
But what makes a great photo that tells a story, you ask? I turned to superstar photographer Annie Griffiths, one of National Geographic Magazine’s first female photographers to answer that question.
“A great photo has the combination of light and motion…but moment I think is the biggest thing,” Griffiths says. “It’s a moment that you capture that makes people have an emotional reaction. It can be a moment of light; a sunrise. It can be a single tear running down someone’s cheek. It can be a moment of pure joy; of tenderness.”
Imagery definitely has the power to invoke emotion, lead to greater awareness of an issue, as well as motivate audience action when this communication vehicle is utilized properly. Imagery can take the hearts and minds of donors or prospective supporters to places and situations where they have never been, and likely will never go but should still care about.
If you are interested in learning more about strategic imagery, be sure to watch my webinar here for more hints and tips about this powerful form of cause-based storytelling.
About the Author:
John Trybus is a student at in Georgetown University’s Masters of Professional Studies in Public Relations and Corporate Communications program and a cause consultant. His day job is working as the manager of outreach and public relations at the Jane Goodall Institute where his main area of focus is planning Goodall’s perpetual 300-day-per-year global speaking tour. He has traveled with Goodall to more than 30 states to date, reaching an estimated 35,000 people in person per year. You can find him on LinkedIn.