How to Use Inspiring Imagery to Drive Donations
The sad eyes of a puppy in a kennel. The despair across the face of a starving child. The pain behind the forced smile of a man fighting a terminal illness.
You can likely visualize each of these descriptions clearly. That’s the power of imagery.
Photography is a critical tool in making an emotional connection with an audience — which is the first step to a successful appeal. The right imagery can amplify the power of your nonprofit communications. However, pictures must be used correctly to achieve the best results. That’s because a photo isn’t just a photo in fundraising – it tells a story, signals a call to action or acts as a “thank you.” It’s a one-to-one interaction that can be stronger than words.
Using the right photography can make a big difference in your fundraising efforts across many channels. So, let’s get into the nitty gritty of some image selection best practices.
Find the Right Balance
Like a teenager taking selfies, getting the right shot is important! As you take or choose photos, you’ll want to keep in mind balancing need and hope.
The images of animals, children and whomever or whatever your mission is focused on should demonstrate need. This is how your pictures tell the story, by showing the real problem your donors can help solve.
That said, many organizations may have brand guidelines that steer away from sad or upsetting images. Therein lies a conundrum for creative decisions in fundraising efforts. There’s certainly a place for hopeful, happy images, such as in a stewardship communication that lets donors see their impact. But when you want to drive donations above all else, images that demonstrate need are usually the winners.
So, what’s a fundraiser to do? Often you can walk this line and keep both fundraisers and brand stewards happy. A photo of a child can be cute while still showing a slight look of melancholy, implying need and leaning on the copy for the details. Of course, if possible and in the budget, the best solution is to test different types of images to see what works for your nonprofit’s audience — the proof is in the pudding!
When a true crisis, such as a natural disaster, occurs, it may be OK to break the rules and show the true levels of destruction to strike a deeply emotional chord. This approach can be used to create urgency around the ask.
Keep It Real
Using real images will make your communications feel authentic, and that’s something donors will notice. Supporters want to see who their dollars are helping. And those new to your organization need to see for whom they’ll be making a difference.
When making an emotional appeal, candid snapshots can be more effective than polished, choreographed images. This is true particularly in social media, where the preference is to appear spontaneous rather than pre-packaged. Don’t ignore resolution and composition entirely, but photos that are slightly out of focus or imperfectly framed will feel more authentic.
If your organization has a photographer on staff or someone who’s a wiz with a camera, that’s excellent. Make sure that they’re following these rules so you can build a library of strong images from which to select. Snap high-resolution pictures whenever possible to keep your collection fresh and ensure you have new content readily available for appeals, newsletters, social posts and emails.
If you must use stock images, for privacy or other reasons, try to select photos that look natural. Anything too perfect or aspirational might not resonate with donors or reflect the need behind your call to action. A carefully selected stock image that looks and feels genuine can still be effective. Also, if your brand has guidelines around lighting, settings or diversity you’ll also want to follow those rules for consistency across communications.
Can the same imagery work in direct mail and online? That depends. Generally, it’s wise to use the same imagery in both media to reinforce the message and provide continuity across channels. But knowing your audience demographics and testing are the best way to determine what works where.
Once you’ve decided, there are some channel-specific considerations too.
In direct mail, use images sparingly to maintain a more authentic feel and maximize impact. If your message is built around a particular individual or event, a relevant photo will help bring the story to life. Don’t use precious space in a letter for pictures that aren’t related to the story.
Since budget is always a factor in nonprofit marketing, consider printing photos in black and white or two-color. You can save money while also not appearing too flashy or extravagant (something your donors will take note of). Just be sure to select images with strong contrast so they retain their impact in black and white.
For a digital space, such as social media or emails, you may only have a moment to capture someone’s attention. If someone is scrolling, the right image can stop them in their tracks. In an email, an eye-catching header photo can draw the reader in. If it fits your brand, color is your friend — and, unlike direct mail, at no extra charge!
Despite all of this talk about photography, be sure to test no-image options too. Sometimes a long letter or email with no images whatsoever can be a winner — so testing is key.
As we all know, the nonprofit world is full of surprises — maybe you’ve come across something against the grain that works well. Good luck and happy fundraising!
The preceding blog was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.
Kerri Lee is a copy supervisor with 20 years of experience in fundraising and marketing. From the nonprofit side to agency life, she successfully filled roles in development, special events and account management before letting her creative drive take over and using this vast background to create engaging and emotional copy for national nonprofits and brands with Merkle.
Mike McQuaid is an associate creative director on Merkle’s nonprofit team, focusing primarily on health-based charities to deliver hands-on art direction, as well as providing guidance to other members of the creative team.
For 30-plus years, Mike has created effective and innovative solutions for a variety of national brands while still maintaining integrity with the established identity. Well-versed in print, digital and social media, Mike provides integrated creative solutions as needed to fulfill the marketing strategy.
Prior to joining Merkle, Mike worked in a variety of creative roles with marketing agencies in Minneapolis and Dallas.