16 Practical Photography Tips For Ethical Fundraising

Learn how to choose the best photos for ethical fundraising.


Choosing the best photos for your fundraising efforts will help your donors understand, appreciate, remember, and connect with your work.

Think about recent photos you have seen in the news, on social media, on billboards and in magazines. What stands out to you? What caught your attention? Which of them are memorable and why? Every day, the photos we see help us connect, make us think, define our cultures, and shape our perceptions.

Online users typically spend less than a few seconds on a page before they decide to stay or leave. If the first thing donors see on your crowdfunding campaign page is an uninteresting photo, it’s likely they will navigate away immediately. However, if a captivating photo catches their eye, they are more likely to stay and learn more about your mission. Studies have shown that we can process images faster than text, and images combined with text generate 94% more views than just text alone. And people retain 65% of the information they can pair with an image versus 10% of information they read.

The photos you use to represent your organization’s work help set the tone for your crowdfunding campaign, and should be selected with care. Take the time to thoughtfully and deliberately select each photo that you upload. The most successful nonprofits choose photos strategically to amplify and promote their causes.

Following these simple photography tips will help attract your donors and make your fundraising efforts more dynamic and effective:

    1. Choose photos that tell your story for you.

    Photography is a powerful tool that can tell our stories in ways that words can’t. Look through your archive of photos, and choose the ones that illustrate your project’s story in the most complete and compelling way. How can your organization’s story be captured in an image? How can you express the mission of your work through a picture? Often the only difference between a memorable photo and a forgettable one is the story that it tells.

    2. Select photos that reflect your values.

    Think about your organization’s values, and choose photos that support and reinforce them. At GlobalGiving, our values are “Always Open,” “Never Settle,” “Committed to WOW,” and “Listen, Act, Learn. Repeat.” and they are reflected in every single photo we use. We try to exemplify our values visually in the following ways:

    • Showing diversity and inclusion: a wide range of ethnicities, locations, abilities, economic situations, skin tones, ages, genders, and circumstances
    • Challenging stereotypes, and choosing images that shift perceptions
    • Depicting people as powerful, resilient, and equal
    • Prioritizing respect, dignity, privacy, and safety
    • Leading by example and tirelessly improving our photo choices
    • Learning from our community, and letting them guide our decisions
    • Continually asking your team, “how is this photo helping us meet our mission?

    We encourage you and your team to reflect on your values and find your own ways to honor and uphold them through your photos.

    3. Choose photos that flatter people and highlight their strengths.

    The best way you can show respect for the people in your photos is to show them at their best. Even if they are in a challenging situation (like in a refugee camp or hospital), they can still be depicted in a way that shows their strength, resilience, personality, character, and humanity. Flattering photos of people will attract more attention, and connect better with your donors. Before posting a photo, always ask yourself, “Would I want to be portrayed this way?” If you or someone you love were the subject of this photo, would you be comfortable with it being published?

    4. Choose photos that create emotional connections.

    Nonprofit fundraising lends itself to fostering human connections. Let your passion for your cause show through your photos! If your images capture your excitement about your project, your donors will be excited about it, too.

    Think about the feeling you get when you see a photo that really reaches your heart. Chances are it makes you smile, laugh, cry, or feel relieved. Now think about moments when you’ve felt this way at your organization. These are very human emotions that we experience when we feel connection, empathy, and vulnerability. How can you capture that feeling in a photo to share it with your community?

    Photos that create the deepest sense of connection often include expressive faces, a person making eye contact with the camera, people connecting with or helping each other, genuine gestures or actions, and moments of common humanity.

    5. Show context.

    A good, compelling photo shouldn’t need an explanation. When a photo is strong, the audience will understand and appreciate it without a caption. Photos that show what is happening in the background, what activity the people are participating in, or where it was taken, will make more of an impact on your donors than photos of just faces with a plain background. Your photos are a window into your work, and donors want to see the work you do. Give them a glimpse into your world with photos that capture the people you help in the situations in which you help them.

    6. Prominently feature your best photo.

    On most crowdfunding websites, including GlobalGiving, you typically have to select a main photo. This main photo is not only one of the first and biggest elements on your fundraising page, it also may appear in search results, on the site’s homepage, in marketing emails, and on social media. It’s imperative that your main photo be your strongest, and the one that captures your project most completely. If you had only one photo to show your donors, which one would it be?

    7. Share several photos to show different aspects of your project.

    Typically, crowdfunding campaigns with at least five photos raise significantly more than those with just one. Choosing only one photo to accompany your crowdfunding campaign will not give donors enough information or incentive to donate, and may make your project seem less credible.

    Showcasing a variety of photos will give donors a more complete idea of what your project is and what it aims to do. For example, if your project provides education to children, post photos that show the children smiling, reading, doing group activities, writing on the chalkboard, interacting with teachers, or doing homework.

    However, more is not always better. Resist the urge to add filler images to make your project page seem more complete. Too many photos can overwhelm donors, and dilute your story. Only upload photos that truly add important information and context. Review your photo gallery often, and delete low quality photos that are no longer relevant so that only your best photos are displayed.

    8. Add photos as you make progress.

    As your crowdfunding campaign gains traction, adding photos that showcase your progress is a great way to engage donors. New photos will keep your page appealing and fresh, and will give donors a sense of what you’ve accomplished with their contributions. Make a habit of taking photos at your events, project sites, and program spaces, and make good photography an integral part of your communications strategy. That way, you will always have new photos to share of your latest achievements and milestones.

    9. The quality of your photos matters.

    Blurry, unfocused, or grainy photos can harm your fundraising efforts and make your organization seem less competent. Photos that are clear, in focus, have bright color, and are high “resolution” will appeal most to your donors and strengthen their trust in you.

    Large images simply show details better, and will help your project look more professional. We recommend that photos be at least 1,000 pixels wide or 1MB in size.

    You don’t need to hire a photographer to get beautiful, high quality photos. A basic point-and-shoot digital camera or smartphone will take fantastic photos. Make sure your camera is set to the highest quality and resolution settings possible to ensure that the photos you take are usable on your fundraising page.

    10. Choose photos with bright colors and good lighting.

    Dull, dark, or uninspiring photos can cause donors to ignore your project entirely. Catch their attention with photos that have a lot of color and are well-lit to allow the subject to be seen clearly. Here are some quick tips for color and lighting:

    • Take photos in natural light when possible. The best times of day to take photos are early morning and early evening when there is gentle sunlight.
    • If you’re taking photos outside in very bright, harsh afternoon sunlight, consider moving your subjects into full shade. Make sure your subjects are not looking into bright sun, causing them to squint or look uncomfortable.
    • Only use a flash when necessary. Photos taken without a flash look more natural.
    • Lighting and color set the mood for an image. A dark photo can imply a sinister, serious, or sad tone while a bright photo can depict happiness, joy, excitement, or positivity.
    • Be aware of how lighting is affecting your subject’s skin tone. If you are in a room with fluorescent or very dim lighting, your photo may look too green, yellow, or blue, which can make your subject’s skin tone look unnatural. Adjust this by adding a bit of red or pink to your photo.
    • Lighting can be used in creative ways to enhance a photo and tell the viewer what is most important.
    • We discourage black and white photos on fundraising pages. Full color photos typically captivate donors more effectively.
    • Use free online software like Pixlr, Canva, Design Wizard, or Fotor to adjust brightness and color.

    11. Good composition and cropping will improve your photo.

    Using simple photography techniques to “compose” your image in a visually pleasing way can make a huge difference. Composition is the process of establishing a sense of order for the elements within an image. Follow these basic tips for better photo composition:

    • The main subject of the image (a person, group of people, animal, or object that is the “star” of the photo) should usually be the biggest thing in the photo. The photo can be cropped in a way that maximizes the focus on your subject.
    • Use the “Rule of Thirds” to create a better composition. Imagine a tic-tac-toe pattern on the photo, or mentally draw two vertical and two horizontal lines to divide your photo into a grid of nine boxes. Then, crop your photo so that your subject lands on one of these lines, or intersection of two lines. This will help to show the subject in the foreground of the photo while allowing space to show the background context.
    • Avoid very busy or distracting backgrounds. If the space behind your subject has too much clutter or action happening behind it, this will distract the viewer. Crop out distracting backgrounds to allow the subject of the photo to remain the focus.
    • Use free online tools such as Fotoramio, Image Resize, or BeFunky to quickly and easily crop or edit photos.

    12. Avoid adding filters and too much editing.

    An over-edited photo can detract from its story, and distort the context that allows your donors connect with it. Your photos should aim to show donors what your project is really like, and they will want to see real people in real situations. If your photos are too heavily edited, they will seem less professional, less relatable, and less real. Minor editing to enhance color or add contrast is okay. However, it’s best to refrain from adding novelty filters or altering the image so it looks drastically different than the original photo.

    13. Don’t use photos with added logos or graphics.

    We highly recommend that photos with logos, text, graphics, effects, or other elements placed on top of the image are not used. These things can distract your audience, and they will detract from the subject of the photo. It is okay to add small logo watermarks or copyright information on an image’s corner or edge, if necessary.

    14. Avoid using stock photography.

    For the best impact, only use photos that were taken of your actual project. Donors will respond more positively to genuine, real, authentic images than they will to stock photography. However, if you need to use a few stock photos in order to protect the privacy of the people you are helping (example: sex trafficking victims whose faces cannot be shown for safety reasons), make sure that you have the proper usage rights, which can be found on the site from which you purchased them. When purchasing a stock photo, avoid fake, posed, unrealistic, or over-edited images.

    15. If you have any hesitation about a photo, don’t use it.

    If there is any doubt about whether or not a photo is appropriate, don’t use it in your marketing and fundraising. Use your best judgment when choosing photos. We highly discourage photos that depict pain, anguish, discomfort, anger, sadness, or fear. Photos that have intentionally blurred or obstructed faces to protect the subject’s privacy should not be uploaded.

    16. Obtain informed consent and share photos responsibly.

    Before publishing images, posting them on social media, uploading them to your fundraising page, sharing them with the media, or including them in your printed materials, it is important that you have the appropriate permission to use and distribute the photo. If you know the photographer’s name, give them credit.

Through making conscious and responsible photo choices, together we can create a more accurate and healthy public perception of aid work: one that connects people in communities around the world, and deepens our understanding of each other.

More Photography Tips For Fundraising

The Nonprofit Storyteller’s Triple Bottom Line
5 Photo Tips For World-Changing Nonprofits
Your Nonprofit Deserves Great Photography
Top Photographers Answer What Makes A Good Photograph
6 Steps To A Photo Policy That Boosts Giving And Shows Respect

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Featured Photo: Heal Syrian Refugee Children through Photography by Emfasis Foundation

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