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There’s a lot to be said about first impressions. Before words are read or spoken, we start comprehending messages based on what we see. So, in the age of highly visual storytelling and digital communications, the adage a picture is worth a thousand words has never been truer!

The way things look plays a huge part in how we experience the world. And that’s why mastering the four principles of visual storytelling is so important for organizations that rely on communications, not products, to support their work.

As a nonprofit, you know communicating the core of your mission is essential to connect with your audience. Using powerful visuals that reflect why your work matters engages your audience on an emotional level. Visual storytelling raises awareness for your cause, builds trust with your audience, and inspires donors to help achieve your goals.

In this post, we’ll outline the four pillars of visual storytelling: authenticitysensoryrelevancy, and archetype and provide examples from our friends at the Brooklyn Youth Sports Club. These principles will help you tap into the emotion, identity, and core values your audience and organization share.

Authenticity: Reality Rules

Your images need to feel real. Audiences have a more critical eye in the age of memes and selfies. They have a good sense of when a photo is staged, overly polished, or just doesn’t feel real. So, visual storytelling needs to capture those slice-of-life moments that help the audience connect with the meaning behind the picture.

As we know, nonprofits that are more transparent about their activities are more successful in fundraising. And visual storytelling should be an extension of that.

Use candid images to reveal the reality of your work and your story. They capture attention and make your message memorable because they open a window to your world.

Sensory: Make Them Feel

The world is a noisy place, and it’s harder to make your message stand out than ever before. Think about the way you scroll through your newsfeed on social media. Scroll, stop. Scroll, scroll, stop.

We take in so much information so quickly, but how often does something really capture your attention?

As communicators, we’re in a constant battle to cut through the clutter. There’s no denying information overload. So, the point is to cut through the excess and inspire. The best way to do this is to make your audience feel something and feel it intensely.

And visual storytelling is the fastest, most effective way to do it. This isn’t always the perfectly pristine photo, but rather the nitty-gritty and beautifully flawed, majestic images. The ones you can somehow smell in the air and feel on your skin. Visuals like this invite us in for a full sensory experience.

When you’re soliciting support for your organization, you need to inspire your audience! Sometimes we avoid using imagery that makes us feel sad or uncomfortable. However, disrupting the norm with something that overwhelms the senses can trigger an emotional response.

Your audience will be more ready to engage and take action when you invite them into your reality with powerful, emotional visual storytelling.​

Relevancy: Making it Personal

But the stories your images tell need to feel relevant to your audience to make that emotional connection. This helps turn your story into more than an anecdote.

Fundraisers use stories to spark action. And the only way to do this is to support a personalized narrative with equally personal visual storytelling. But this will require using your data to get a better understanding of your audience and what motivates them.

Identify the values that your audience shares with your organization. These are the ideals that drive your mission. Your visuals should support these values by demonstrating your progress in a way that speaks to what’s important to your audience.

Archetypes: Tapping Into Identity

Every story has a character and every character fits a certain archetype. Of the several personality archetypes, there are three that apply most to nonprofit storytelling: the caregiver, the explorer, and the creator.

In this article, we’ve discussed the importance of making a connection with your audience in a way that inspires them to support your cause. And you can create more engaging content by understanding the individuals whose stories shape our culture, our present, and our future.

The characters we place in our stories will be perceived in various ways by different audiences. But remember, stories that leave an impression feature a memorable character readers or viewers can identify with. The goal is to keep your story and organization top of mind.

For instance, if your organization’s mission is to improve the health and well-being of children, you’ll want to connect that idea with the character(s) in your story!

When one of your constituents thinks of children in need, the emotional connection they have to your story reminds them of your organization’s work. So, consider the archetypes of your audience before planning your stories. And don’t forget, visuals have the power to help us relate and make meaningful connections to the world around us!​

The Wrap Up

We all know the importance of a good story, but powerful imagery allows your narrative to transcend the page. Visual storytelling roots itself in the hearts and minds of your audience.

The next time you plan a campaign, utilize powerful pictures, videos, and other visual elements to bring your content to life. Incorporating these elements of visual storytelling into your outreach brings your audience closer to your cause!

About the Author:

A nonprofit veteran with over 12 years in the field, Jade joined Action Graphics in 2015. She brings her skills and fundraising expertise to the position of Creative Director, working as strategist for our nonprofit and educational clients. She spends her days planning, designing, and writing for print and digital content and her nights and weekends building her vinyl collection and replicating dishes from Top Chef in a far less elaborate kitchen. Jade obtained her BA in Art History and Arts Administration from Drew University. In 2018 she was named one of Jersey’s Best Under 40 by NJ Ad Club.

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