Pictures That Are As Good As Gold

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A strong image can capture the attention of your donors and potential donors.

We have heard that a picture is worth a thousand words.  This is so true, especially when it tells a story, your story, or more specifically, your organization’s story.  A picture can relay what you are doing, why you are doing it and most of all, the donor’s impact in helping to fulfill your organization’s mission.

A strong image can grab the attention of your donors and potential donors.  The right visuals provide a quick read of what you are trying to achieve (or have achieved), illustrating the impact of gifts in action and leading constituents to want to know more.

Powerful images will draw your donors in.  They may encourage a donor to open an envelope … continue reading an email … click to play a video … or browse your website to find out more about your programs.  Simply put, you want to choose and use images that help to tell your story.

We all lead busy lives.  We are bombarded with information all day long.  On the way to work via billboards or ads in the magazines or newspapers we read. On our smart phones as we browse social media.  As we relax in front of the nightly news or a favorite TV show.  You are probably thinking, how can we even compete with all that?  The answer: impactful imagery. 

Some might think of photos as filler that just add color, but in reality, images should support and complement the message you relay in copy.

Here are a few key things to consider when picking the right imagery for your communications, whether in print or digital.


  • Subject matter: Ideally, use visuals of real people and places featured in text.  If it is necessary to protect the privacy of an individual, you may be forced to resort to stock photography.  However, you’ll want to avoid very staged or studio imagery.  Also, make an effort to show the correct demographics.  Another great tactic is the “before and after” scenario.  Show how things looked in the past, followed by the outcome your donors’ support made possible.  This is a great way to affirm that their donations are going to a good cause with positive results.


  • Quality: Images should be clear, in focus, and well lit.  Also, composition should be taken into consideration.  If the image has a lot of “content” that doesn’t relate or pertain to the message or story, crop in on what is important.  The photo needs to be a quick read for the viewer; we shouldn’t make them search to find out what the image is about. 


  • Size: This is more of a consideration when it relates to print.  There are minimum size requirements that need to be met when printing.  Having a large image, with high enough resolution is key; especially for outer envelopes or other large format printed materials like brochures.  You can use smaller images online, however starting with a high quality and larger size image gives you more options and uses. 


  • Placement: This is where creativity takes over … and also where testing is key.  Where we use images makes a difference.  One popular option for outer envelopes — a great place to grab the attention of potential donors — is a “billboard” approach.  You can use one full side of an envelope for photo placement with no clutter from windows, flaps, addresses or postage.  At a glance, this side of your envelope will look like a billboard, perhaps with a short headline or teaser.  Another important place for powerful photography is the reply form or landing page, reminding the donor of the impact she will make as she chooses the dollar value of her donation.  Be cautious, however, about photography in the body of a letter.  Visuals here often make the letter “more promotional” and less personal.  Of course, photography can be used liberally in brochures and promotional materials, and in much larger and impactful ways.  Careful testing will help you determine photo placement for emails and landing pages.  Recent tests appear to indicate that a linear approach works best, with text at the upper left and images set apart on the right.  However, your results could differ.  Use A/B testing to ensure you are optimizing your landing pages in particular.

As you develop your next appeal, think not only about the story you want to convey but also how you will support that story with photography and perhaps video.  Use compelling visuals to draw your donors in and tug at their hearts as you invite them to make an impact through your vital work.

John Payne