How Bad Images Hurt Your Marketing and Fundraising

Images tell a story. Are yours telling the story you want to tell? If you’re like many organizations, you might inadvertently be minimizing the role of images in your messaging. Maybe you: don’t realize their importance, choose images that don’t speak to your audience, don’t know where to find quality images or don’t understand that using bad images is worse than using no images at all.

Why Are Images Important?

Images are more memorable than words.

We’ve all heard the expression that a picture is worth a thousand words time and time again—and it’s true! We are able to take in more information in a few seconds by viewing an image than we can by reading a bunch of words. Images explain more effectively and deeply than words alone can. Furthermore, images are more likely to be remembered than written words.

Images have impact.

Images speak to us on an emotional level because they visually explain more effectively and deeply what we cannot describe with words. Therefore, specific types of imagery make us feel a certain way.

So when you are trying to reach donors through your fundraising efforts—whether in print or online—you need to make them not only understand your cause and your work, but connect with them and make them also care. If you do that, you immensely increase the likelihood—and amount—of a donation. If nothing else, you might inspire them to volunteer or spread the word about your work. Quality photos, paired with strong design and copywriting, help you do just that.

Images convey information.

If you have statistics you need to present to your audience—for example, data about the number of people your programs serve and how much those programs cost to maintain—show an infographic as opposed to a table of numerical data. Infographics are a more visual and memorable way to represent that information. They are also easier to understand. Infographics are liked and shared on social media three times more than other any other type of content.

Images engage us and encourage sharing.

Using good images on social media and in blog posts is especially important. Posts with images get much more engagement than text-only posts. According to Hubspot’s 42 Visual Content Marketing Statistics You Should Know in 2017, Facebook posts with images get as much as 2.3 times the engagement of text-only posts. Where they is more engagement, there is a higher likelihood of your content being shared.

Not only that, but photos showing people’s faces attract us more than those that do not show them.

Images help with SEO.

Using images on your website or in blog posts can help with search engine optimization (SEO), meaning that you can gain visibility from readers as a result of grabbing traffic from image search engines. But you must give your images a meaningful name (“volunteer-with-senior-citizen.jpg,” for example, not “DSC01678.jpg”) and include text in your images’ Alt tags.

Images say something about your organization.

When you choose images for your marketing (whether they’re for your website or for print materials), you send a certain message about your brand. When good-quality, relevant images that align with your brand are used, your organization looks more professional and understanding of your audience.

The opposite is true as well: that your organization looks unprofessional and not understanding of your audience when poor-quality or irrelevant images are used. That leaves a negative impression and results in a disconnect with your audience. (And they say it takes eight positive experiences to overcome a negative one.)

What Is a “Good” Image?

images and fundraising

The best images for your marketing and fundraising are those that have relevant content to your message and are of good quality for how they are being used, whether that is in print, in e-mails or online.

Image content and relevance

To determine whether or not an image would be worth using, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does the image tell a story? Does it tell the right story? Does it show engagement between those you serve and your staff or volunteers?
  • Is it relevant to what you are talking about? In other words: does it make sense to show the image? Does the image support your points? If it doesn’t, it won’t add value; it’ll just confuse your reader. Leave it out.
  • Does it reflect the demographic of your organization or those it serves? Does it show people who look like your staff or volunteers (think, age, gender, lifestyle, industry, etc.)? For example, if your volunteers are usually teenagers and you’re trying to recruit more of them, then don’t show an older adult acting as a volunteer in the photo.
  • Is it in line with your brand’s style? If you usually feature photos, don’t suddenly change it up by showing a cartoon unless there is a good reason to do so.

Technical considerations

You might find the perfect image in terms of content. But what if you need to use it for print and it’s not the proper resolution and size? That’s a problem. So your organization needs to consider technical aspects as well:

  • Resolution. Is the image high enough resolution for whatever size it will be produced at in print, on the web or in an e-mail?
  • Clarity. Is it in focus and not blurry?
  • Crop. Does it have minimal background distractions? If so, you or the designer should crop out anything that doesn’t tell the story or add to it.

Where do I Find Quality Photos?

There are several ways to find quality photos—and they don’t include those served up by a search engine, such as those found via a Google Images search. Most images are copyrighted and therefore illegal to use without purchasing a license or obtaining written permission. Don’t open up your organization to that potentially expensive risk.

That leaves two options: custom photography or stock images.

Custom photography

With custom photography, you have a few choices:

  • Ask a qualified staff member or volunteer who knows how to take decent photos (no cost),
  • Find a student who can take good photos (no or low cost),
  • Hire a professional photographer to take photos (pro bono or for a fee).

Don’t discount (no pun intended) those wanting a fee in exchange for their works. Perhaps they will do a better job of conveying that impact you seek, which might lead to more donations or more prominence of your work.

Ask them to take photos at some of your programs or events so that you have photos on hand to use in your marketing materials and direct mail packages.

Finally, always get written permission, via a photo release form, from anyone who is shown in the photos.

Stock images

When custom photos are not an option, stock images (photographs or illustrations) are a good alternative. The price for stock photos varies greatly: they can be free or low or high cost. Sometimes it depends on the size or how you plan to use the images. Always check the license (especially in terms of quantity, type of usage) and whether or not you need to provide a credit line or link (for online use).


Remember: it’s not just about just getting images. It’s about selecting the right images to tell the story you want to tell. It’s about the impact of those images. You really want to capture the essence of your work and the people your organization helps. You want others to feel what your staff and volunteers feel so they feel compelled to act on that, whether that’s in the form of  a donation, volunteering or paying for your services.

Get more information about finding good images:

Download our free image sources guide

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