August 15, 2018

Is Image Diversity Affecting Your Nonprofit Branding?

Image Diversity in Non-Profit Branding Strategy

Imagery is equally as powerful a driver of your brand as stories and constituents’ testimonies and can be a useful tool in attracting donors, employees, and volunteers. We already know that images provoke emotions in the eye of their beholders.

However, images can, in a more subtle fashion, play a role in presenting the end goal of your organization, inspire those interacting with your brand, and help to differentiate your organization in a crowded room of competitors.

Crafting a brand that represents an organization that is authentic and inclusive has never been more critical; especially for nonprofits in the United States. Not only are people, especially Millennial donors, inundated with advertisements on a daily basis, but they are becoming more desensitized to the pleas for attention.

A Brookings Institution survey, reported by Stanford University, also found the following to be true:

“…about one third of Americans reported having “not too much” or no confidence in charitable organizations, and 70 percent felt that charitable organizations waste “a great deal” or a “fair amount” of money…only 17 percent thought that charities did a “very good job” of being fair in decisions; and only one quarter thought charities did a “very good job” helping people.”

Despite the damage of social advertisements on our attention spans and negative news surrounding the spending of nonprofits over recent years, Deloitte’s 2018 Millennial Survey shows an upward trend in younger generations towards favoring nonprofit and social good organizations. There are several moving pieces involved in building trust while also motivating your organization’s audiences. However, imagery, while more nuanced, should play a critical role in delivering your mission and vision in today’s visually-oriented society.

Diverse imagery for global nonprofits

What is the Right Imagery

Finding images that balance the idea of global diversity, transparency, empathy, strength, and leadership within your space can feel like finding a needle in a haystack. Image searches can be frustratingly time-consuming; what looks effortless and beautiful within a design may evoke the wrong meaning when taken out of context.

Have a conversation about imagery within your organization and include parties from various departments for a broad range of perspectives. Certain images that may conjure sympathy with donors may make your organization’s constituents feel isolated or misrepresented. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that while varied perspectives are valuable to hear, the focus should continue to remain on the organization’s overarching goals over personal opinions. Smaller, designated working groups are more efficient.

Come up with a simple list of requirements that each image needs to pass. Below are common examples of guidelines for selecting images used by a nonprofit organization:

  • Take great care to portray all people in positive light, and focus on featuring outcomes and solutions of your work rather than the oftentimes negative challenges you are working to address. Positivity doesn’t always mean a smiling face. Natural and candid shots should be used as often as possible. Some organizations are fighting debilitating and painful diseases or catastrophic events. Imagery that is superficial in nature can oftentimes undermine a more serious message.
  • Avoid images that fall under the category of “poverty porn” — photography that promotes a sense of guilt or shame in order to rally immediate action.
  • Groups of photos should strive to represent the breadth of the work that you do and demonstrate the geographical, generational, cultural, and social diversity of your work.
  • Utilize imagery that is textural and abstract in nature. This style can be just as meaningful and symbolic and can create a nice balance alongside imagery of people to your print and digital materials.
  • Some organizations serve more than one demographic type. Attempt to have all those that you serve equally represented by including rural and urban backdrops and those from varying economic classes. If diverse demographic images cannot be found or is hard to accumulate in mass, look towards alternative methods of imagery style to use: think metaphorical vs. literal or animations versus photography.
  • For international entities, it is important to be sensitive to unintended bias towards imagery representative of the Global North. Be careful that you are not only promoting the historical, economic, educational, and political perspective of the Global North, and be sure to conduct research on symbols and icons that could have an alternative, negative connotation in other areas of the world.
  • If you are a humanitarian organization, it is important to be sensitive towards the racial composition of your photos. You may be sending unintended messages if your organization always represents donors as one race and recipients as another. However, a balance is the aim. Swing too far in the opposite direction and audience members may see this as a knee-jerk reaction rather than authentic inclusiveness
  • Blurry, grainy, or low-quality images should not be used even if the corresponding content is well produced.
How to find diverse stock images for nonprofits

Where to Find the Right Imagery

It’s important to invest the time in finding professional images that make an impact and show the work that you do. There are a number of stock photography resources online that are not only affordable or free to use, but also provide the level of quality your organization should strive towards.

Image Stock:

Historic Stock Imagery:

Misc / Video Specific Resources:

Expert Tip: Any and all imagery you choose should feel like part of the same brand and family. Refer to your current brand style guide to find images that pull on the primary and/or secondary color palettes already reflective of your brand. This allows for a more complete and polished look that feels like an original concept rather than a copycat of other organizations.

How to Maintain Image Integrity

Over time, your imagery may change slightly, but the baseline quality and standards should remain. Once you have defined and found the type of images that make sense for your brand:

  • Create an easily accessible image library for the entire organization that can be drawn from at any given time.
  • Produce a style documentation that includes the guidelines created by your team for image selection and use.
  • Be sure when photos are being used on the web they are uploaded at the highest resolution possible and are compressed for increased site speed.
  • For photoshoots being conducted internally, be sure to provide your photographer your style documentation as well as examples from your image library for structure and consistency.

While selecting and using imagery that supports and embodies your organization’s mission may not always be easy, following the above principles for imagery selection to complement a well-defined brand allows for a strong foundation in which to jump from.

If your board and internal team are aligned on your mission and message from the get-go, identifying strong supporting imagery can be an enjoyable process that delivers long-term value to your cause.