Visual Storytelling for Nonprofits

Submitted on Tue, 10/4/2011 - 3:19pm
Visual material that communicates the core message of your organization and encourages your audience to engage emotionally can have a monumental impact – not only in getting the word out, but in securing funding.

A single photograph has the power to shift public policy, alter the course of wars, and engage civil society. In a time when photographs circulate around the globe at an unprecedented scale and speed, and revolutions are propelled by viral images, it has become more important than ever for mission-driven organizations to create impactful visual media that can drive action and fuel awareness. Most successful organizations have excellent and well-crafted visual media at the center of their communications strategies because the capacity of visual images to incite action is unparalleled.

Photographs and videos create options for supporters to share your message with their networks, exponentially building your audience. With a successful photo-essay or multimedia piece, organizations can attract partners, appeal to donors and grantmakers, influence policymakers, and perhaps most importantly, drive a movement. In an increasingly image-driven world, it is necessary for nonprofit organizations to capitalize on the undeniable power of visual storytelling to support their mission.

Nonprofits often believe they can’t afford excellent visual content, that it isn’t worth the effort, but there are many photographers and media producers looking to collaborate with nonprofits. Visual material that communicates the core message of an organization and encourages its audience to engage emotionally with the subject can have a monumental impact on advocacy and organizational success – not only in getting the word out, but in securing funding.

Here's how the Bhopal Medical Appeal and the World Wildlife Fund did just that:

Bhopal Medical Appeal

The Bhopal Medical Appeal collaborated with photographer Alex Masi to capture the eyes and hearts of key media outlets around the globe and to expand the organization’s audience by leaps and bounds. Masi’s images of The Bhopal Medical Appeal were featured on the New York Times Lens Blog and TIME Photos. The visual story of the Bhopal Medical Appeal was subsequently awarded a Getty Grant for Good in 2011 after winning the 2011 Focus for Humanity NGO Assignment Fellowship. Without Masi’s powerful images and well-crafted visual essay, the story of The Bhopal Medical Appeal would not have reached the millions of people that it did.

Photo by Alex Masi on behalf of The Bhopal Medical Appeal

World Wildlife Fund

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) worked with photographer James Morgan to produce images that not only tell a story, but also draw viewers in and drive them to learn more about the organization. WWF has used Morgan’s visual imagery in their marketing collateral, their online gallery, and on their website. As a result of Morgan’s capacity for visual narrative, the organization has garnered attention from major international news sources including the Guardian, BBC News, and the New York Times.

Photo by James Morgan on behalf of the World Wildlife Foundation

Of course, great photographs or a great video are only the first step to garnering support for an organization or driving a movement. After creating a stunning visual story, nonprofits must take the step of getting their images seen by as wide an audience as possible, integrating the images into all communications materials, from social media outlets to printed materials.

Christy Wiles holds an MA degree in Theory of Contemporary Art from the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) and a BA in Spanish and Latin American Literature from Reed College. At SFAI, Christy wrote her MA Thesis on Alfredo Jaar's The Rwanda Project, looking specifically at the impact of photographic representations of Africa in the American media. Christy helped found the San Francisco-based digital photography publication, Once Magazine. Before relocating to San Francisco, she worked in New York with the Aperture Foundation, the International Center of Photography, and UnionDocs. Christy is thrilled to be working with PhotoPhilanthropy on marketing and exhibitions. Visit PhotoPhilanthropy for resources, to connect with photographers, learn tips for effective storytelling, or just to be inspired! www.photophilanthropy.org

[Ed note: since the photos are being so well received, here's a bonus shot.]

Photo by James Morgan on behalf of the World Wildlife Foundation