fundraising success: the right photos tell the story

Photos are an imperative in fundraising. The right image makes the case. The problem is that the best images often make us uncomfortable.

That’s the point.

I can’t tell you the number of times clients have agreed with me on the use of vivid, concrete language to express the need and to describe their cause but they’ve flinched over photos. And I completely understand their flinch. But, I also love that flinch.

Here’s why: I believe that flinch is what can grab my attention as a donor or prospective donor. That can be what makes the reader slow down long enough to read closely and think about the great cause they might want to join.

Comfort doesn’t lead to action. And fundraising is about a donor taking action, right?

Obviously, you can go too far with photos. I’m not advocating that. I’m just saying that if you have a need that you’re addressing or a problem you’re solving show us who’s affected.

“Eyes in the camera” are the words our team sometimes uses to describe a great photo we’re looking for.

You want eye contact so that the reader can imagine who they’re helping. And, in a weird way, you want the reader to feel like the person in the photo is looking back at them. You want a eyes-to-heart connection. That’s what I want from a photo for fundraising.

When you’re letting someone know about a need or a problem to solve—show the person in need. Let us see the impact of poverty or homelessness. Let us see what it feels like to suffer abuse. Take it out of the abstract and make it about a person. And let us look into the eyes of the person we could help.

Go for it.

You’ll be tempted to not show powerful images.

You’ll be tempted to show smiling faces.

You’ll be tempted to not go close up.

You’ll be tempted to do something pretty and “artsy.”


If your cause is true . . . if the need is great . . . if you are fighting a battle worthy of support, show me WHY. And most importantly, give me a real picture of WHO.

I know you have hard drives full of great photos of happy, smiling faces. Save ‘em for when you’re demonstrating the good I’ve done with my gift.

So what about you? How do powerful, evocative images impact you? Do you understand the “flinch” I describe? I’d love to hear what you think about imagery in fundraising. Show me.

Steve Thomas
Partner, Oneicity

(photo credit: gezelle)

Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas

2 thoughts on “fundraising success: the right photos tell the story”

  1. I’ve spent a lot of time working with World Vision International, and a general rule for all of their marketing is “no flies on eyes”. Meaning, when they show a child for sponsorship, they aren’t showing the malnourished, distended stomach, flies crawling on them, about to die, kids. They show real kids that are being helped, happy, and healthy. It draws in more donors, and it gives a positive message that their actions are working.

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