Does your organisation have bland or non-existent visuals? How to change

More than ever, our world is overrun with visuals that compete for the attention of our audiences, institutional and individual donors, volunteers, partners, beneficiaries. Many non-profits don’t understand the value of visuals, or the right formula to capture powerful images and video that tell the story of an organisation’s vision and work.


The pictures you take (and share) should be engaging and interesting.

Ask yourself, what is this story, image or video saying? What is the audience going to learn from it? If you can’t answer these questions then it’s not good enough to represent the organisation, online or in print.

NGO communications tend to go in one of two ways

Tell the story of how terrible the situation is and how desperately we need funds, or how wonderful the organisation is and the great work we’re doing with our funds. The middle ground, real and honest storytelling, is what spurs audiences into action, and isn’t that what most NGOs want – inspired, sustainable action?

Non-profits work on tight budgets and photography and video is expensive.

Does this sound familiar? An NGO schedules an event but there are no remaining funds for documenting the event through photo, video or blogging. Staff pitch in and snap some pics, but the resulting images are too far away, blurry, and the subject matter is unclear. The moment is lost.

Hire a professional, and provide a brief and support.

Carve out funding to hire a pro by building it into the proposal or including ‘project documentation’ within the Monitoring & Evaluation line. In the Terms of Reference, request the professional provide final products the organisation can use online, on social media, in reports and proposals.

Director of Awards and Exhibitions for Photo Philanthropy, Kathleen Hennessy, says,“Many NGOs do not know how to use photography well. When you show them the difference between high-quality professional photography and their nephew’s hobby, they can really feel the difference, feel the impact of the pictures.”

Once you have a great story, photograph or video, use it wisely.

Many organisations have stunning photos on their hard drives, but no understanding of how the images can be used in a targeted message or call to action. Think like your audiences, and remember that each stakeholder has different needs and interests.

And finally, if there are no funds, don’t fear. You can still succeed.

Just remember to tell stories! Done properly, storytelling can be a powerful way of communicating, often touching us in deeper ways than simplistic videos about suffering or success. Go beneath the surface of people’s lives and convey powerful, emotion-filled messages by letting the people you’re helping tell their own impactful stories. Encourage beneficiaries, community leaders and local staff to write about their lives, or interview them and pair their story with a portrait.

Jenn Warren specialises in photography, communications, Communications for Development (C4D) and graphic design for humanitarian and development clients. Jenn has worked for a wide range of government, donor, UN and NGO clients. Her photography and writing has been published internationally.