Guest Post: Photography for Nonprofit and Planned Giving Marketing (Part 1)

In developing your planned giving marketing campaigns, have you ever wondered:

  • What is a “good” photo?
  • How do I take and identify “good” photos for marketing?
  • How do I choose photos for marketing materials?
  • Why do I need great images for marketing?

We have your answers! Please join me in welcoming our guest author, Naomi Liz for a two-part series on photography for nonprofit fundraising and planned giving marketing campaigns. Naomi is a writer and photographer whose work focuses on nonprofit, humanitarian, travel, and nature projects. Naomi is passionate about helping non-profits communicate stories of hope and transformation through genuine, compelling photographs. We couldn’t imagine a better person to give advice about how to take, identify and select quality photographs that make your marketing campaigns stand out and drive response and action. We hope you enjoy this guest post on photography for planned giving marketing direct mail, marketing campaigns and donor stories.


Photography for Nonprofit and Planned Giving Marketing

When planning fundraising campaigns for your nonprofit organization, there are numerous elements to consider. You may have to make decisions about things that are outside of your wheelhouse, such as photography. As a photographer who has worked with local and international nonprofits, I want to offer you a few tips that can serve as starting points for anyone who wants to improve the quality of photographs they use for their fundraising campaigns.

Why do we need high-quality photos for nonprofit marketing?

  1. Images amplify your story and help you reach more people. “An image is worth 1,000 words.” We’ve all heard this adage more times than we can count, but what it speaks to in nonprofit marketing is that photographs powerfully enhance your story. When used well, photographs and text work together to deepen and strengthen each other.
  2. Photographs compel people to read further and inspire them to take action. Ultimately, your goal is to have your audience take action, but they will never do that if they haven’t been drawn into your story. There are countless studies that show that people react more quickly to images than to text alone. A great photograph elicits an emotional reaction with your target audience, and this emotional connection inspires action.
    For example, look at these powerful statistics about how our brains process images:
    • The brain can see images that last for just 13 milliseconds. [MIT News]
    • 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual. [Shift eLearning]
  3. Quality photographs make the overall look and feel of print marketing pieces more cohesive and attractive. If you’re investing in great design and professional writing to get your message to your audience, it’s important that the quality of photography is on the same level. Mediocre photos dilute your overall appeal, but compelling photographs of your nonprofit’s work combined with great design and copy will make your fundraising message more likely to be heard.


What elements make a compelling photograph for marketing materials?

  1. It includes a person or a few people. People are relational, and they connect better to photos of other people. Consider this compelling fact: “One of the first things we focus in on when we are born is the faces of our family. This isn’t just because they are always around in those first few weeks. The brain has a specific circuit for recognizing faces called the fusiform gyrus, or the fusiform face area.” [Canva Design School]
  2. It doesn’t include too much.A photograph that includes too many details will be lost in the noise. Capturing a photograph is about selecting what you do and don’t want to include in your story. Remember: not every detail has to be included!


How to eliminate distracting details and make your photo stand out:

  • Focus selectively on one part of the image. For example, if the photograph is a candid shot of several people in a group talking, perhaps there is one person that is in sharp focus, and the rest are out of focus. This isolates your subject and tells your viewers’ eyes exactly where to go!
  • Watch out for distractions in the background or foreground! The culprits can be telephone poles, tree branches, bright or colorful objects, water bottles, trash cans, or extra people.

Most importantly, the image conveys a story and tells your audience why they should care. A strong photograph of people shows connections or relationships. This doesn’t always mean there are multiple people in the photograph. Relationships can be shown through: a subject interacting with the camera or photographer; a subject interacting with other people in the photo; or a subject shown in her own environment.

  • A powerful photograph shows and elicits emotion. What do you want your viewer to feel when they see this image? Surprised? Happy? Nostalgic? Curious? Look at the facial expressions, actions, and interactions of your subjects.
  • A strong photograph is relevant to the text. What is the story you are telling? A great photo draws people into it, and the written story brings depth and perhaps even surprise.


How do we ensure we get these photos?

  1. Hire a professional. 
    It’s understandable that you have a budget for your nonprofit with many competing demands for the dollars you spend. But marketing the work that your organization does is your opportunity to reach more people and amplify your message, thus allowing you to grow and continue the work you are doing. Hiring a professional photographer for your nonprofit organization is something that multiplies your marketing efforts. I’ll talk about this in greater depth in the next photo tips article, so stay tuned!
  2. Assign a project to a volunteer or staff person.
    If you have someone on your team who has photography skills and you are opting not to hire a professional (for now), give your internal photographer some guidance on what you’re looking for.
  • Consider giving him or her a project or assignment with a deadline. This person probably has competing demands for his time, so placing some boundaries around when you need a particular photography project completed keeps it at the forefront for a specified period of time.
  • Brainstorm a shot list with this volunteer. This will include photos you want him or her to capture and possible locations. For example, if your story is about the impact of teachers who invest in the lives of their students, your internal photographer could look for the following shots that highlight this relationship: teacher at the front of a classroom (from various angles and perspectives), teacher having lunch with students, and the teacher meeting one-on-one with a student in their office.
  • Those are just a couple of basic ideas—your particular situation will help you come up with your own creative shot list! This doesn’t have to be seen as a checklist of photographs he must capture, as it’s good to allow for creativity within the project. Your internal photographer may need more or less guidance, depending on his experience, but a brainstorming session is always a good way to gather ideas as a springboard for a photography project.

I hope these tips help with some of your photography needs, questions, or frustrations. What other questions do you have? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter! Be on the lookout for the next article about hiring a professional photographer for your nonprofit marketing.

Naomi Liz is a writer and photographer whose work focuses on nonprofit, travel, and nature projects. She enjoys exploring the great outdoors, drinking great coffee, and chasing her elusive goal of becoming fluent in Spanish. Naomi is a Maine native, has traveled extensively in Latin America, and now calls southeastern Pennsylvania home. Follow Naomi on her BlogFacebookTwitter and Instagram 

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