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Guest Post: Visualizing Your Story - Part 1

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How Nonprofits Can Work with Photographers to Enhance Their Message

Guest post by Billy Howard

You do great work in your community and spend countless hours thinking about and writing compelling stories documenting the fascinating individuals you help and the amazing volunteers who give of themselves to bring hope to the people you serve. Then you post it with a photo taken with one of your volunteer’s cameras, or, quelle horreur!, their iPhone. 

A story that should grab the short attention span of the average viewer gets no responses and you wonder why. It was well wrought and compelling with a call for action, but goes unheeded because the average viewer spends less than a minute on a page, and many times far less than that. You need an effective way to put the brakes on and make the reader sense there is something worth lingering on, and then soothe them into those painstakingly chosen words you crafted so tirelessly.

You have two strategies: 

  1. The artful use of typography and design. I know it when I see it, but have no expertise, so I will immediately jump to Number 2.
  2. Good Photography. 

With both tight budgets and a mandate to be good stewards of funds, budgeting for photography can be painful. But, when you have already expended considerable time and resources into collecting and telling your story, it doesn’t make sense to send it into oblivion without the support it needs to thrive and drive your readers deeper into your narrative. 

Think of the non-profits you most admire and how you first came to know about them. Do their images stand out to you? CARE, the international humanitarian organization, uses compelling images from all over the globe to arrest the viewer and along with powerful stories and excellent design, has developed a marketing vehicle that pays for itself through a total package that visually bolsters their profile. And CARE is given high marks for being one of the best stewards of donations. 

Now that we’re on the same page, so to speak: How will you go about finding the right photographer for your project, what should you pay and how should you work with them?

Visualizing Your Story - Part 2 >



About the photo:

I was in assignment for the humanitarian organization CARE in Bangladesh when I saw these girls in their pretty dresses walking up a dusty road and started following them. One girl noticed, rewarding me with a glance and a smile.

About the author:

Billy Howard has traveled the world documenting people and places for a diverse range of clients including nonprofits. He is the author of Epitaphs for the Living: Words and Images in the Time of AIDS and many other books. He is a 2011-2012 Rosalynn Carter Fellow in Mental Health Journalism. Find out more at

All photos courtesy Billy Howard.

For me, fundraising and communications go together like peanut butter and jelly – delicious & filling!

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