We’ve entered an era where thick text has become white noise, and its photos and images that guide us through ideas.

If you’re sitting there type-type-typing away – page after page of text for your website – but aren’t posting eye-catching pictures, you’re in serious trouble.

Consider that most people who land on your website will decide in five to ten seconds whether they want to stay or leave. Photos that draw the viewer in, basically at the speed of light, are extremely important. 

Take a look at the photo above from FINCA. In just seconds you understand that the organization focuses on working women in developing countries and immediately begin to visualize her story, creating an authentic human connection. 

Wherever you're anchored online should be flush with photos- your website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+. Make them beautiful; make them provocative. Serialize, create a narrative, or integrate them with a campaign… just post them.

How to Make Photo Magic

Unlike days of old, stunning photos are now attainable on all budgets. If you have the means to hire a professional, go for it. It can make a big difference.

If not, grab your best camera (even a recent smartphone will do), don your beret and consider these suggestions:

1) Feature Your Beneficiaries

Whether it be Afghan children, impoverished mothers or endangered turtles, this is what all of your energy fuses around—the people or living things you’re helping. Capturing their beauty or pathos will draw people in and make them understand why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Photo by Water.org

Something as basic as a simple portrait along with a very short paragraph about the subject’s hopes and dreams and current situation can make a huge impact.

Kiva, a nonprofit that provides microloans to small businesses, does this brilliantly on the home page of their website by including a snapshot of each of their loan applicants. You can scroll over the picture for the person’s name, the amount of money they’re requesting, and what they hope to use it for. Each picture also links to a more in-depth profile story for the applicant.

These pictures allow the potential donor to see the individual human impact of a donation and to put actual faces and stories to Kiva’s work. It’s darn near impossible to visit the site and not be moved to give.

Kiva Homepage

2) Capture Staff and Volunteers in Action

It’s not just about who you help, it’s about who you are and how you do it. Pictures are a great way to put an approachable human face on your organization.

Photo of WWF Staff with Beneficiaries

Feature a volunteer of the month. Go behind the scenes at a food bank, fundraising event or office party. This builds trust and makes people feel like they’re supporting real people not just an amorphous “organization.”

3) Tell a Poignant Story

A refugee walking down a road with all of her possessions and children in tow, an oil-drenched pelican being carried out of the water…heartwrenching images really are worth a 1,000-word essay on the same topic.

We identify immediately with the subject when we see anguish, loss or fear. 

Save the Children – Syria Campaign

4) Entertain, Surprise or Delight

Compelling images need not pull at the heart strings. Employing irony and humor can be just as effective. Trying to save the endangered bog turtle? Shoot a sad bog turtle’s face with antiquated relics – old telephones, baroque wigs – and the tag line, “Turtles are so passé.” If your image surprises or draws clever connections, it will capture attention. 

In 2012 Unicef created a profile for fictional 13-year-old Ami Musa from Sierra Leone on Pinterest, a board usually reserved to bookmark things or experiences we wish to acquire. Instead of the usual sorts of pins – pictures of cakes she wanted to bake or Danish furniture she hoped to buy – “Ami’s” wishlist included things like a bar of soap and running water. This campaign garnered a lot of attention for its irony and unsettling juxtaposition.

Think creatively not just about the content of your pictures, but how they might be used in different contexts for amplified effect.

UNICEF – Ami's Wishlist

5) Focus on Quality

Don’t post low quality, poorly composed or lackluster photos. There’s just no excuse for blurry or dull pictures nowadays. If you need a little photo-doctoring, color boost, text overlay or other special effects to gussy up your photo, tap into Instagram, Pixlr, BeFunky or countless other photo manipulation apps online.

6) Optimize

Once you’ve selected the photos to post on your website and social media outlets, give them a little shot in the arm by making them easily shareable and searchable.

  • Encourage engagement. Photos that get commented on by followers enjoy a lot more visibility on social media. Post a question along with the photo that might encourage followers to interact with the picture. Or add a statement as an overlay to your photo.
  • Optimize for searches. Include searchable key words in the file name of your photo. If you’re posting a picture of a bog turtle in a baroque wig include “bog turtle” and “wig” in the alt description of the picture.

Want to know more about the inner workings of how Google catalogues images? Read this explanation straight from the horse's mouth.

Keep the Photos Coming

Social media and website vibrancy demands constant novelty and continual engagement. You can’t just post a handful of pictures and disappear.

NMAEYC Member Photo

One clever way to expand your catalogue of pictures is to encourage your supporters, volunteers and staff to submit relevant photos. NMAEYC did this with their members, and got hundreds of photos like the one above. You can always curate submitted photos to control what gets posted on your page. Holding a photo contest is another way to draw out photos in a fun way.

Once you’ve put some effort into a few great photos, you may find yourself thinking in terms of image as much as text.

Photos are powerful ways to capture what you do, why you do it, and what you value. Don’t miss the opportunity to share this with your supporters – it can really make a difference.