Visuals: A Nonprofit Storytelling Superpower
For a nonprofit, not only is an image worth a 1,000 words, it can be worth countless supporters, donations, and increased impact. The right visual at the right time (and place) can literally make all the difference.
Visuals are also great because they’re easy to use across multiple platforms, making content creation that much more efficient, and can improve your search engine rankings (SEO), at the same time. Read on to learn why, and get some tips on easy ways to create optimal images.
Why Visuals are so Important…and Effective
As humans, we evolved to recognize and relate to visual cues long before language—oral or written—was even possible. We still process images at a far greater rate than text, and are more likely to remember them.
Some Convincing Statistics on the Effects of Visuals
increase in view rates for content with images
increase in engagement for posts with images
of people respond better to images than text
of information transmitted to our brain is visual
of our brain is active in visual processing
faster processing by our brains of visuals than text
When it comes to online storytelling, visuals are a superpower that:
- Increase empathy
- Increase donations
- Engage visual learning modality
- Spark imagination
- Break up long text
- Boost SEO
- Are better for visual learners
- Are better for everyone
Images attract our attention, stir our emotions, and trigger reactions—especially when it comes to helping others.
Types of Online Visuals and their Uses
The term “visuals” can really be applied to anything that isn’t plain text online. Popular examples include:
Where Can You Use Visuals to Boost Engagement?
Everywhere. In fact, as we mentioned above, one of the benefits of using visuals is that you can re-share them on multiple platforms, including:
- Website pages
- Articles/blog posts
Social media platforms have realized how powerful and often viral images and videos can be, based on the fact that so many people like and share them. That’s why Instagram and Pinterest are so popular, YouTube is the #2 search engine in the world, and Facebook’s algorithms often give visual posts preferential treatment in a news feed.
A detailed infographic from makeawebsitehub.com with all of the different size images that social media platforms prefer.
Each social media platform has specific preferences when it comes to image sizes. But don’t get bogged down in trying to make everything the perfect size. It’s better to have something that works than never getting it done because you want it to be perfect for every possible use.
For websites, visuals are a fantastic way to create empathetic connections and have been scientifically proven to elicit greater donations—making them an absolute requirement on donation pages and crowdfunding campaigns! The most powerful visuals are those of single individuals or unified groups (such as families), in need of help. The size and aspect ratio of images on your website is a lot more flexible, and will often vary with the layout you’re using.
Scientific studies have shown that a photo of one specific child will approximately double donations, especially when paired with a name. We connect to others on an individual basis, and identifying with the beneficiary of your services makes a potential donor more likely to act, and more likely to feel good about doing so!
Google also loves visuals. The search engine’s job is to find the best answers to people’s questions. Since visuals are so effective in relaying information, Google gives preferential treatment to pages that employ them (as long as there are proper “alt” tags with descriptions of the image), ranking those pages higher in search results, thus making them easier for people to find.
Simple and Effective Visual Ideas for Nonprofit Storytelling
Unlike the process of becoming a superhero in comic books, you can start using your new superpower without exposing yourself to toxic gasses, irradiated arachnids, or extensive interplanetary travel.
A few ideas for visuals you can make for your content without racking your brain or breaking your budget:
- Infographics depicting:
- How many beneficiaries did you impact last year
- What percentage of the population needs your help
- How many people supported your cause
- How much money your generous supporters raised in your last fund drive, and how many schools will that build in Indonesia
- How many locations (neighborhoods, cities, states, countries) are you operating in
- How many days left before _______?
- Photo of a beneficiary with an overlaid infographic
- Photo of a supporter with a quote stating how important your work is.
- Chart depicting your impact (or need for your services) over time. Note: this could be proof of your success, and/or proof of the need for more funds to do more.
- Animation of how your work changes lives by building houses.
- Flowchart of how your organization delivers its services.
Ideally, the image should convey a combination of the following:
- Tone you want to set
- Story you want to tell
- Message you want to convey
- Information you want to impart
- Effect you want to have
The main key is to stay true to your voice and not distract from the story you’re telling.
Creating the Visuals for Your Content
Once you know how you want to incorporate visuals into a particular piece of content, you don’t have to spend a long time creating it, or hire a graphic designer to create the perfect image. There are a number of great free and paid resources that will help you find the right photo, create a chart, an infographic, or help you find someone to make anything for you quickly and inexpensively.
- Your own library of photos taken by staff, volunteers and beneficiaries is always going to tell your story best, so start here! If you haven’t been amassing one, it’s never too late to start. Ask your beneficiaries for some photos interacting with your products and services, on location, or just being happy.
- Consider hiring a professional photographer for your next event. A trained photographer knows how to tell a story with each shot, and frees your participants to focus on the occasion. With the cost of professional cameras down significantly in the last 10 years, more people have taken up photography and lowered their rates.
- There are several great free photo sites you can download from. Just be sure to check the license and attribution requirements before you download:
- Pixabay collects user-contributed, license-free photos from around the world. (See more about Pixabay in our tools section.)
- Creative Commons has a large collection of “use and remix” images, allowing you to edit them to your heart’s (or your content’s) desire.
- Library of Congress Pictures offers “more than 14 million” government-owned and public domain images.
- Flickr users can and frequently do offer their photos under Creative Commons licenses (often free to use with proper attribution).
- Royalty-free stock photo sites like Shutterstock and Getty Images can be expensive, but look around. Sites like 123rf and DepositPhotos often have the same or similar images for lower rates. (Tip: if you’re going to be using them often, a bulk pack or subscription may save you a lot of money in the long run.)
Quick & Easy Visual Creation Tools
For creating infographics, editing photos or making social-media-specific images, take a look at these tools:
- WordPress themes and plugins often have infographic-style elements built in (like the ones we used in the “Effects of Visuals” statistics section, above). You can easily incorporate those into your site content, or even grab a screenshot of the page to make your shareable image for other platforms.
- Canva is a graphic design platform offering a wide assortment of design tools, templates, and documents.
- Piktochart is an infographic software for creating professional-grade graphic visuals.
- PowerPoint (or your favorite presentation software) – Because it’s designed for quick visual layout (i.e., storytelling), we’ve used PowerPoint for years to make infographics, inspirational quotes, cover photos, ads, and, of course, slides.
- Fiverr.com (and other freelance sites) — Outsource your graphic needs to experts to save you time and money. On Fiverr, all offerings start at $5, and go up from there. Tip: Copyrights aren’t as well-respected in many parts of the world, and even by some freelancers here in the U.S. We recommend you double-check ahead of time that the final result will be original work and/or use licensed images, free of copyright infringements.