1. Always have your camera at the ready. (Sorry for the 2005 reference, what I meant was a mobile device and selfie stick – but extra points for old school polaroids.)   

You should be taking photos, lots of them.  Of the subjects you’re helping, of your team in action, at fundraising events. The point is, you want lots of photos to choose from, and often you must take many, many pictures to land on one that works.  You do not want to use stock photos—they often look staged and may lack the emotional pull and connection to your story.

And empower you donors and supporters to share their photos with you.  You can’t be everywhere – although sometimes it feels like you are.  And consider, rewarding the donor who’s photo you use with some type of mention.

2. Take simple images.

Try to keep your images focused on your subject, without a lot of background clutter.  If possible, if your subject is a person or an animal, have them looking directly at the camera to draw the viewer in.  Take a look at these two photos:



If you are running a campaign to help children, the photo on the top is a clean image with a focus that draws you in.  When I look at the photo on the bottom, although it does tell a story, I find my eyes jumping around the photo without really being able to focus on anything or understand what the need is.

3. Get a second opinion.

This can be as simple as asking a few friends, or you could go as far as running a survey if time and budget permits.  The point is to ask others what the image means to them – people don’t always react in the same way to images. While you may see a super obvious message coming from the picture, it may not be apparent to others.

Or perhaps even use social media to solicit feedback from a select group of friends of your organization.

4. Tell the story.

As the saying goes, a picture tells a thousand words, but just to be sure your potential donors are getting the story you want to tell, your written story should support and tie into the image you have chosen.  You may also consider putting text right into the image, as these organizations have done:


From The Hunger Project Website – www.thp.org


From Heifer International Website – www.heifer.org

5. Check out the competition!

If you still have no clue what photo to use, or even if you know exactly which photo you are selecting – just have your 5 year old draw a picture.  I’m kidding.  We recommend finding out what your competitors are doing.  Of course you will look at what the competitors related to your cause are doing, but branch out to other types of causes, and even outside the nonprofit sphere.  For example, maybe you are fundraising for a hunger cause.  First you might take a look and see what other hunger organizations are doing.  Then you might look to see what environmental, educational or even cultural organizations are doing.  For example, here’s an image from the Red Cross website:


How does it tell its story?  Is there something you could take from this for your cause?  Then go see what your favorite brands are doing.  You don’t have the budget or the resources to be as slick as these brands (and frankly, you don’t want to be), but you can learn from the brands and images that they have invested millions of dollars in.  Take a look at this image from nike.com:


It conveys pain, persistence, strength.  And they hope to make you want to get up and do something, or at least buy the gear!

Selecting the right image can have a big impact on the success of your fundraising.  And the great thing about technology today is that it’s fast and easy to switch out an image.  If you find you’re not getting the results you want from your fundraising campaign, try a different photo.  In fact you should be refreshing your images on a regular basis anyway.  You could even try different photos on different social media channels that best appeal to the channel’s users.  And once you find something that works, you can continue on that theme in future images and keep that in mind when taking photos.