Nonprofits are built on passion and purpose. You have so many important things to say and your marketing must amplify your messages to the world. A great nonprofit marketing strategy connects real needs with real people who can help meet those needs.

But did you know that images are just as important as carefully crafted messaging for your nonprofit marketing strategy?  

We’ve heard it said that a picture is worth one thousand words, but have you stopped to consider why? Or why the earliest writing systems of the human race started with pictures and symbols?  We have a few thoughts on this, and how it all relates to an effective nonprofit marketing strategy.

Here are three important reasons why pictures with words are more powerful than words alone.

Images Clarify Ideas

Ever bought something online like furniture, or maybe a bike for your kid, only to discover that you have to put everything together yourself? Maybe you expected some assembly required but not the entire thing to come in pieces. We know a guy whose wife ordered a baby crib online and spent an entire weekend putting the darn thing together, piece by piece. It can be maddening work, especially if the instructions come with all words and no pictures.

Some of the more evolved among us have realized we don’t have to go mad trying to make sense of complex assembly instructions. Instead, we can dial our attention to YouTube and automagically location a how-to video!

Apparently, YouTube is helping the world solve a lot of fix-it-type problems as statistics show that 70% of YouTube viewers are there to learn how to fix something or learn something new. The reason for this is universal. Our brains learn better in pictures AND words, not just words alone.

World Vision is a nonprofit who consistently gets this right. Below is an example of effective use of imagery to clarify the financial breakdown of child sponsorship.


Explainer videos are another very effective way to accomplish this. Using motion graphics and a well written script you can explain just about anything in a meaningful and memorable way. Check out the explainer video our Cross & Crown designers created for Menno Haven.

Images help our brains create meaning

It may seem elementary, because we teach children how to read using simple words and pictures as context clues, but human brains of all ages still function faster when pictures are there to move the words along. The brain doesn’t like wasting energy so it looks for the simple explanation. In marketing, image strategy helps this happen.

Nonprofit marketing has the advantage here in many ways. Nonprofits exist to meet a need. Felt needs often come with compelling visuals. Leading nonprofits attracting large donors have made smart use of image strategy to move audiences to action. Words alone won’t get the job done. People need to see a need to have their empathy activated and be compelled to meet a need.

In fact, the Content Marketing Institute says that content plus images gets 94% more views than content with no image. Furthermore, behavioral data proves that the perfect picture can elicit a more powerful response than stats and facts can on their own. Social media has made images even more important as content without relevant images gets significantly less social traction than words paired with the right photo, or even better, the right video.

This video we created for South Mountain Partnership had a dramatic impact on their social media following and engagement. The impact was so powerful we created a case study to capture the results.

Seeing Is Not Only Believing, It Helps Us Remember

When we see something absurd or revolting we may say “I can’t unsee that” in a joking way, but the statement is actually true. Today’s consumer is looking to engage with the causes and brands they support. It’s not enough to tell them, they want to see it and have a personal experience with it. Your nonprofit donor may never physically travel around the world to see your nonprofit in action but they can still have an emotional experience and connection to the work through imagery. Why? Because powerful images evoke emotion and challenge our preconceived notions about the world.

Hubspot discovered that a relevant image paired with stats and facts helps people retain 65% of the information three days later as opposed to a 10% recall for those who only heard the same information. Hubspot also found that eye-tracking studies show how internet readers pay close attention to information-carrying images. Simply put, people would rather read the info laid out with graphics and pictures that are pleasing to the eye rather than simply reading walls of words on pages (paper or web).

When deciding which photos or videos to use for your nonprofit brand, choose imagery that communicates shared experiences between customers and the brand. Charity Water has a great example of this on their website, with powerful visuals, graphics and a video as proof points for their work.

If your organization leverages volunteers or organizes “vision trips” for donors to see the work, these are great opportunities to capture images that build a bridge between your work and the people who support it.

We hope the information presented here has convinced you to take the next step in visual marketing. Are you ready to make a bigger impact and take your digital marketing to the next level? We would love to help you develop and implement a visual imagery strategy that works for your organization. Take a look at some of the compelling visuals we have created for nonprofits around the world.

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