GG’s James Seaton explains how and why nonprofits should engage in visual storytelling to further engage their key audiences.
Crafting a compelling story for any organization is a multifaceted process. For nonprofits that act as pillars in their local communities, there are many ways to make the mission come to life for the populations they serve, current and prospective donors, internal staff, and government officials. Visuals can paint a picture that words simply can’t on their own. It’s one thing to say your organization supplied 500 coats to residents in need during the winter season, but sharing videos of volunteers handing out bags of puffy coats to smiling parents and children creates an emotional connection. In the sections below, I outline five key ways to use visual storytelling to your advantage in a way that is compelling and sustainable.
One of the biggest obstacles to effective communications is limited staff capacity. If organizations have limited financial resources, they might not be able to hire a dedicated marketing, communications, or social media manager. So, other staff are looped in to update the website, marketing collateral, and other owned media channels. In these situations, leadership must set clear expectations so that staff will know where to put their energy. By prioritizing initiatives most foundational to their mission or most impactful to the communities they serve – whether it be advocacy around an important bill or a program that serves the most community members – the staff can focus on quality vs. quantity in communicating about their organization through written and visual storytelling.
Once you’ve established which initiatives are most important, it’s time to decide what kind of visual storytelling will drive home their importance or impact most effectively. For example, an advocacy campaign calling for city government to address food deserts in communities of color could benefit from a map showing the distance between these communities and the nearest supermarket with fresh produce. This visual representation of the problem can provide clear evidence of the problem and act as a springboard for policy solutions, like the establishment of farmers markets and community gardens. Set up a brainstorm with your team to strategize about what visuals will resonate with your audiences.
You don’t need a professional photographer, videographer, or graphic designer to create a compelling visual campaign. With phones offering high-quality picture and video capabilities, staff can attend events and leave with the foundations of social media-ready content. Staff can plug pictures and videos into free online tools to put together flyers, posters, graphics, collages, and videos. Canva is an easy-to-navigate platform with a variety of templates for your marketing and design needs. While basic Canva tools are free for all to use, nonprofits can also access premium Canva features for free through the Canva for Nonprofits program. Other free resources such as iMovie, CapCut, and Prequel can support video editing specifically.
Social media, websites, and newsletters can all reach key audiences, but depending on the campaign, one medium might be the better fit. For example, you’re more likely to reach elected officials on social media than on your website, as you can tag them and call on partners to do the same. If you’re unsure of the best medium, consider collecting data like social media engagement numbers or newsletter readership. Appropriate metrics provide justification for strategy. In the end, choose the medium that is most accessible to your target audience.
Now that you’ve created visuals and chosen a strategic medium, it’s time to plan out your campaign. First, you’ll want to think about timing. Does the bill you’re advocating for have a specific voting deadline? If so, you’ll want to make sure you run your campaign in the lead-up to the deadline. Does your community program end on a certain date? If so, you’ll want to post updates on activities while the program is in progress and share a roundup of impact and learnings after the program is over.
By understanding your staff’s capacity, noting which visuals will best communicate your work and the tools required for design, selecting the right medium, and determining appropriate timelines for your visual storytelling campaign, you’ll be well on your way to engaging audiences with compelling content that advances the mission of your organization.