If you don’t already have one, put creating a photo bank on your to-do list.
Though it should pain me – a writer – to say this, it’s true: one great photo says more than words can. An image communicates much faster – long before words make their way to our brains.
More of us are visual learners. Having an image with text helps us process faster and better.
And if it’s a powerful image, it gets right to our hearts.
Yes, ideally, you’d have a real photographer, especially for the most important shots. But that’s a budget item many smaller organizations simply cannot afford on a regular basis.
Do you have someone on your staff who enjoys taking photos and has some skill? Or a volunteer with a special talent? They might enjoy helping in this way.
The benefit of a staff person is they can often be there as something interesting happens. So a staffer might be the best choice for those sudden moments of mission that can occur. And even many phones have the capability to take great shots now.
Deputize someone if you can. If not, do your best. My backup is always to take a lot of shots and hope I can get something good. Since film isn’t an issue on a phone, that’s possible.
What are you looking for?
The best photos tell a story. So people standing in a line and smiling won’t help you much. If you can capture everyday images of your mission as it happens, that will be much more interesting. And of course, big check photos are a snooze. You don’t need them – unless your donor feels good seeing herself or her company in one. But those aren’t for mass distribution.
Look for photos where the subject is looking at you. Eyes looking out from a photo are as powerful as actual, in-person eyes looking at you. That’s probably our lizard brain at work. We react immediately, because the first question is “is this danger?”
Remember to think about both horizontal and vertical images. Later, as you create donor communications – especially newsletters – you’ll be glad you did. Though you can often crop photos to be what you need, it’s much better when the photo is properly composed to begin with.
Perfect is not necessary – but emotion is
The reason big check or people-posing-in-a-line photos don’t work well is there’s no emotion there. Everyone is trying to smile and look polite. Polite is not compelling. Excited, sad, worried, surprised… those images start a story that your readers will want to know more about.
Often lighting and composition can be tweaked afterward – especially if you work with a talented designer. But even an image that is obviously taken spur of the moment with a phone can work if the emotion is there.
Keep those images in one place
Set up one place where everyone who needs to can access the photos. Keep them dated and in logically named files for easy searches. Create a rule for how they’ll be organized and keep to it. It will save you untold hours later!
If you keep the photos in the cloud, be sure to also back them up regularly. There’s nothing more frustrating than needing one when your internet it down. Or worse, if something happens to your online account!
One last thing… permission
Anyone whose photo you take needs to have given the required level of permission. That can vary, depending on where you’re located. But generally, out in public, you’re ok. Any shoots you organize, you’ll want them to give you permission in writing. That means a parent or guardian’s written ok if you’re taking photos of their children.
What about sensitive situations? Lots of organizations need to be very careful to protect the privacy of their clients. If this is you, please feel free to use good stock photos – so long as you make it very clear that’s what you’re doing and why. It’s never worth putting someone in danger!
Once you start thinking about your annual donor communications strategy – and especially how you’ll illustrate your work – you’ll see opportunities all the time. Grab them, file them… and then you’ll be ready to share them with the people who support your work.