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Much More Than a Thousand Words

When it comes to creating successful fundraising campaigns, such as marketing planned gifts, there is no question that compelling photos and videos are a powerful component of that effort. By sharing their own donor, volunteer, mission-related work and staff photos, many organizations can go further. That is because a picture may be worth much more than a thousand words. Moreover, understanding how to use an image appropriately, whether it’s determining the subject of the photo, the file format, or the appropriate resolution needed for its application, organizations can do a great deal to leverage their messaging and forge more meaningful connections with their supporters.

We know that humans process visual information more quickly than any other data, so prioritizing meaningful images with text is an important part of connecting with your donors. The use of mission-related, custom photography over stock imagery, which includes generic, mass-licensed images sold on stock photo websites, cannot be overstated. When you have control of your messaging, you can foster the kind of emotional connection that is needed to both capture your supporters and create meaningful, ongoing relationships.

While stock images are useful in situations where privacy concerns limit the use of individuals, they rarely inspire the emotional response of custom images. Additionally, using your own images or videos, whether taken by a professional photographer or captured by staff or volunteers on their cameras or mobile devices, can save you time. It can take hours to scroll through stock images to find the right one. This can also be a potent strategy for strengthening support for your causes.

Mission-related images and videos inherently communicate and possess certain qualities that stock photos cannot, such as authenticity, originality, storytelling, identity and emotions, as well as have the power to tell your story. Think of it this way, if you were thinking about your wedding day a few years ago and wanted to remember what that incredible day felt like, would you look at your photographs or someone else’s wedding photographs?

Stock photos are like someone else’s wedding photos. They don’t quite measure up. Your images, in contrast, are perfectly crafted to communicate your unique identity, values and message. Since stock images are used over and over, having custom images can also help you stand out as authentic and credible. Thus, original imagery can communicate trust and create a bond with your donors. Donors connect with your organization on an emotional level, and a personal connection is paramount to evoking the compassion needed to support your cause.

The connection that your supporters feel can be elicited by images and videos that feature people in your organization, including recipients of services, supporters and volunteers, and your location and areas of impact. A university, for example, may feature on their gift planning website supporters at a homecoming game, or students on campus—both are powerful visuals to alumni, parents, or grandparents, whose identity and pride are intrinsically and acutely tied to the university through their experiences or personal relations.

Another example might include a community foundation, whose images portray the entities and individuals they help in their community, including volunteers preparing food for those in need, doctors providing care in underserved areas or organizations supporting local families. These kinds of images can serve as powerful storytelling devices. In general, storytelling helps us better remember details as well as create more meaningful experiences. Additionally, when people are moved, thoughts and behaviors can shift, further underscoring the importance of using unique photography whenever possible.


When considering your own photos and videos, it’s important to think about how these images will be used. While some images might be placed on websites, social media, or in email marketing, others might be destined for printed materials, such as brochures, annual reports, or direct mail. Furthermore, while a professional photographer can certainly be a wise investment for your organization, the recent advancement in smart phone technology means you do not always have to rely on professionals to create original imagery.

Most of the newer phone models automatically capture images and videos with stunning high-definition quality. Those who wish to harness the capabilities of their devices further, can manually meter the light exposure, become experts in portrait mode, or find the perfect lens or editing application. Most importantly, remember to take photos and videos at the highest resolution available on your device.

In addition to image resolutions, it is useful to understand the common types of image files often used in print and web applications. Most images on the web are in JPG or PNG format, while print applications often employ JPG or TIFF files. All of these file types are made up of pixels or individual color blocks that form the image. Moreover, the proportions of these files are based on their resolution, whether high or low. When pixels are stretched to fill out a space they were not intended to fit originally, they become distorted, resulting in a poor quality, blurry image.

It is always best to start with the highest resolution and file size possible. The resolution of an image is determined by the density of pixels in that image, and understanding resolution can help you decide on the appropriate destination for that image, whether it is for digital applications or print. Lower resolution images may look fine on your monitor but will likely look blurry when printed. This is because websites often display images at 72 DPI/PPI. Higher resolution images, or those over 300 DPI/PPI provide crisper, clearer images and are the minimum resolution needed for printed materials.

If all this technical information has you confused and bewildered, do not despair. Just remember one thing: always capture images at the highest resolution available on your camera or phone (check your settings). This will yield larger file sizes and thus ensure that you start with the highest quality photo available for your marketing endeavors.

We know that a more thorough understanding of the technical details and emotional impact of custom photography and videos in marketing planned gifts can result in a deeper connection between an organization and its supporters. The fact that humans process visual data more easily and quickly can help organizations shape their own stories with compelling images and take better control of their messaging. If every picture tells a story, yours can keep your supporters invested in the success of your programs and activities for many years into the future.


Danna Joselovitch

By Danna Joselovitch
Senior Interactive Designer, Crescendo Interactive, Inc.

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