Seven Reasons Why Non-Profits Need to Harness the Power of Visual Storytelling

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Seven Reasons Why Non-Profits Need to Harness the Power of Visual Storytelling

image bank, image archive, international development, photographs, images, CSR
The old adage that a picture tells a thousand words is nowhere truer than in international development. Our brains’ latent, inherent capacity to respond to visual stimuli rapidly, tapping into emotions along the way, is part of our biological makeup. When visuals are compelling and of a high quality, there’s huge potential to make them work for your purposes. Yet many non-profits and CSR departments still aren’t capitalising on the power of visual storytelling. Here are seven powerful reasons why yours should be setting aside a budget for this essential tool.

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1. Demonstrating impact

Using a video or images will illustrate and lend authority to what you’re saying. Statistics hold weight and tell their own stories, but when it comes to demonstrating impact, visuals say “this is what our work really means for our beneficiaries”.

2. Fundraising

Stories can move the public and prompt potential donors to open their wallets. Making a human connection with the person who’s sharing a part of his or her life is a powerful and beautiful experience; it makes us feel good. When we feel good, and we feel connected, we’re more likely to give. So images enhance our emotional responses to stories and make for stronger connections than text can alone.

Network for Good and Vanessa Chase carried out a study in the US that found that 55% of the non-profits surveyed said that their fundraising efforts had benefited from the use of stories. You can also use stories as a way to show gratitude to an individual donor, explaining how the donation concerned has been used. Making this into a film or photo story personalises the donation more. This can be a very effective way to prolong donors’ allegiance to your organisation.

3. Accountability

Visual storytelling is an accountability tool. Images are proof that something actually happened, whether that be a change of state, the delivery of material, a completed construction or the outcome of a training course. To this end, visual stories are fabulous tangible and incontestable complements to programme evaluations.

These don’t have to be limited to beneficiaries or target populations; they can also involve humanitarian workers reporting from the field through video, or the innovative documentation of lessons learned by project staff.

4. Communicating rapidly

Images convey messages faster than words can alone. Sight is our most dominant sense; our brains process visual stimuli 60,000 times faster than they handle text. Therefore, a story told through images will get through to your audience very quickly. In this age of borderline digital information saturation, the window of opportunity to grab a potential supporter’s attention is very small, even fleeting, so to ensure that your campaign or appeal is visible, speed really counts.

5. Prompting behaviour change

Stories are brilliant vehicles for C4D (read our blog post on the role of storytelling in behaviour change communications to learn more), and images and film help to engage target audiences so that key messages get through.

6. Connecting people to issues

Who could forget the image of Alan Kurdi, the three-year old Syrian boy whose lifeless body was photographed washed up on the shore of the Mediterranean last year? If there’s one image that has changed deeply-rooted perceptions and opinions during the last decade, it’s this one. The plight of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea in unsafe, overcrowded boats was nothing new. But suddenly, Europeans who previously seemed ambivalent began clambering to take in refugees, with members of the public moved to donate and even volunteer at welcome centres. Why? Because images hold the power to personalise and humanise an issue.

While we’re certainly not fans of using such negative imagery to publicise causes, Alan’s image nevertheless illustrates the point that for human rights and advocacy organisations, visual stories can offer tremendous leverage when seeking to influence policymakers. They have the power to connect them to the people at the heart of otherwise rhetoric-based issues.

7. Getting noticed

Visual mediums should be considered an essential complement to any progress briefing, impact study or M&E (monitoring and evaluation) report demanded by donors. Reporting requirements can seem burdensome, especially when you have the impression that many donors never read what you invest so much time in producing. So why not include something visually compelling to entice them to have a proper look, and reinforce in their minds that your project is really worth spending money on?