Posted January 1st, 1998

Focus on Your Mission With Photographs

You’ve no doubt heard the old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words.” With that in mind, have you ever wondered what the photos in your publications are “saying” to your donors? What are the images your donors see telling them about your organization and its work? Here are some tips to make the photographs you select for your gift planning publications really “speak” to your donors.

Subject, setting, simplicity

Look through a few copies of your publications. As you look at each photo, take into consideration the three S’s: subject, setting, and simplicity. Ask yourself the following questions: Is the subject of this photo readily apparent? How does this subject relate to our mission? Does the setting or background of the photo tell readers something more about our work and where it is done? Are the photo’s subject and setting easily understood, or is the image too cluttered or busy to effectively represent our organization’s work?

When you keep subject, setting, and simplicity in mind as you select photographs for your printed materials, your images will become cleaner, clearer, and more meaningful to your readers. The “who,” “what,” and “where” of the image will be easy to distinguish in just a glance, which leaves the viewer with more time and energy to focus on the “why,” or the meaning, of the photo.

Seeing is believing

To illustrate how photos can really speak volumes about your organization’s work, let’s look at a couple of images that are more than just pretty pictures. Most importantly, these photographs have specific meanings and symbolize the goals of their respective organizations.

ORGANIZATION: World Vision. SUBJECT: A young, smiling child holding an ear of corn. SETTING: Cornfield. SIMPLICITY: Very simple, uncluttered image. The child takes up most of the photo and the viewer’s attention is naturally drawn to her. REASON IT WORKS: Without knowing anything about the organization, a viewer can learn a great deal from this photo alone. The subject of the photo tells us the organization deals with children. The setting of the cornfield tells us that one of the ways this organization serves children is by providing food.

DEEPER MEANING: The cornfield setting also suggests to the viewer that this child’s family or community grew the corn she is holding. Therefore the viewer can assume that this organization not only provides sustenance, but also gives impoverished people the knowledge they need to grow crops on their own. And the smile on the little girl’s face relates the happiness that this organization is helping spread in this youngster’s community.

ORGANIZATION: Defenders of Wildlife. SUBJECT: A mother bobcat with her cub. SETTING: In the forest beside a fallen tree. SIMPLICITY: Since the bobcats occupy most of the photo, the image is simple and straightforward with no extraneous elements to lead the eye from the animals. REASON IT WORKS: First of all, we can assume from the photo that this organization deals with animals. Secondly, although the background is out of focus, the fallen tree in the foreground suggests that these animals are in their natural habitat, which may be in danger of human encroachment. This wild setting offers one more clue about the organization: It works to protect wild animals and their habitats.

DEEPER MEANING: Nuzzled close together, the bobcats look comfortable and at ease in their environment. This universal mother and child subject works particularly well for this organization because it gives the reader a visual representation of a bright future for this animal species. The cub represents hope for new generations of wildlife that can exist because of this organization’s work both now and in the years to come.

Is it possible to have perfect photographs that bolster your organization’s mission in every single publication you send to your donors? Probably not. But, by considering the three S’s, you can help ensure that your photographs are more meaningful symbols of your charitable endeavors.

Special thanks to Defenders of Wildlife and World Vision for the use of their newsletters and photographs.

Elizabeth Smithers, senior editor for the Sharpe company, is editor of Give & Take. She has over four years of experience in the planned giving field.

The publisher of Give & Take is not engaged in rendering legal or tax advisory service. For advice and assistance in specific cases, the services of your own counsel should be obtained. Articles in Give & Take may generally be reprinted for distribution to board members and staff of nonprofit institutions and other non-donor groups. Proper credit must be given. Call for details.

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