You’ve heard it a million times: “a picture is worth 1,000 words.” But in reality, it’s worth 60,000.
The human brain responds to images and videos 60,000 times faster than plain text.
The power of images isn’t just how quickly we derive meaning from them, but also the amount of meaning we associate with them. A single image can be emotionally resonant, evoking an instinctive response that trumps language.
Many images stand alone as iconic representations of powerful movements or events, like the Tank Man during the Tiananmen Square protests or the photo of the starving child, Amal Hussain, who brought the humanitarian crisis in Yemen into sharp focus.
That’s why visuals are such a crucial element for telling an engaging story. Without them, your audience is confronted with a wall of text that won’t keep their interest and doesn’t humanize your need.
Not only will images keep your audience engaged but they help make your organization and your mission memorable.
Incorporate some of these tips to become a better nonprofit storyteller using photos throughout your outreach.
Know Your Audience
In order to fully capture your audience’s attention, you have to know your audience. Who will you be telling your story to? Why should they care about your story? How will you help them realize why this is important?
These are all crucial questions that you need to answer before you begin.
Stories can sometimes be universal and work across many types of audiences but there is still value that comes with knowing the personas of your core stakeholders.
You are an expert on your subject, but you must also be an expert on what that subject is meant to make your audience feel.
Have a Central Subject
Center your images around one main subject: it can be a person or animal, a group or family, a gathering or event, etc. Allow your audience to see this subject evolve over the course of several images to create a visual narrative.
Make sure the subject is someone or something your audience can root for (based on your previous exercise) so that they will be driven to see their potential impact in a contribution to your campaign’s success.
Our best advice is to start as small as possible: even if you’re not raising funds for a person, maybe it’s a team, department, or to build an inanimate building, tell your story from the perspective of a single character. We’re hard-wired to feel more when we’re thinking about a single person rather than a group.
This Charity:Water story does a great job focusing on one main subject for each project in order to tell a larger story. It gives its audience real-life examples of a specific individual they can help, as well as compelling examples of the good they are already doing in the world as a case to make impact.
Tell a Consistent Story
Consistency is key when using images to tell a story. As we just mentioned, start with a person and tell their story picture by picture. Stick with one overall topic so you don’t jump around confuse your audience.
However, you should also make sure this visual story is consistent with your mission and your nonprofit’s overall message. Help your audience piece the puzzle of your mission together by incorporating a single narrative thread across several stories, channels, and campaigns.
For example, you can feature multiple image narratives around a single cause that focus on diverse subjects, but then crosslink them acorss channels like social media, your newsletters or blog, your online fundraising pages, etc.
Team Rubicon has some great examples on their blog about what a consistent story should look like. They use real people and consistently give examples of how they helped during a disaster, and then point to the areas where people can give to help a particular area.
Use Evocative and Powerful Images
Pictures are powerful storytellers when the right ones are used, but how do you know if an image is powerful?
The answer is: if your images are powerful enough they will do the talking for your story without text.
Here are four main elements to look for in your photos:
Research reveals that donors perceive the same type of personality characteristics in brands as they do in other people. And just like with people, they are attracted more to some personality types than others — attractions which are emotion-based, not rational. Use people and faces to give your story compelling emotions that dovetail with a donors core motivations. Try to capture facial expressions to convey the emotion you want to evoke.
Your story lies in the details. Little things in our lives make up who we are. Use a variety of up-close and wide-angle shots including your main subject and the small details that portray who they are by capturing them in situations that relate to your cause.
The most interesting photos show some sort of action. Your main subject should be in the middle of creating, moving, or actively showing something. This is an easy way to catch your audience’s attention..
Set a certain mood with the lighting used in your photos. Will they be dark to set a dramatic effect or bright to emphasize a certain mood? Lighting is a surprisingly important factor to create an emotional impact and drive your audience towards what you want them to feel.
Use a Variety of Shots
A single image does not tell a story. You need a variety of shots and different situations.
Use portraits, wide angles, up close shots and interesting angles to tell the story from every direction. Give your audience many different images while keeping the same overall theme.
If your subject is a heavy one, make sure you show some positive images that imply hope and resolution.
This Instagram post from One Girl is a great example of how to implement a variety of shots. They use different images day-to-day with a running theme but then create collages that they use to increase the connection between images and tell one specific story.