Every nonprofit has a cycle of projects, events, and activities throughout the year. One that always seems to creep up on us is the Annual Report.

How to evolve the narrative beyond the typical fact dense recap is a real challenge. The key to making this a vibrant piece that talks about all the amazing things that happened over the past year is to spruce it up with great annual report photos. We all know a picture is worth a thousand words, but how many pie charts or bar graphs is a good photo worth?

Let’s think about how not to just tell the story, but how to show the story. Your goal is to engage your most invested board members and donors with an annual report. To do that you have to get great quality images throughout the entire year that capture the whole range of programs and events of your organization.

Not all of us have the budget for a professional photographer, the resources of a high end camera, or even staff to dedicate to taking pictures. Let’s look at how to get started so you can have a library of images to use for your next annual report.

How to build a library of annual report photos all year long

Plan out your year

The first step is to think about all of your events over the course of a year. This can be everything from the programs you run to the annual gala. Whatever it is that your organization does, track out what you do and when it happens.

Prioritize each event

Now that you have a full list of programs, prioritize them and think about which stories you want to tell over the coming year. This may change over the course of the year, but start to think about how you might visually tell the story.

Get the right equipment for the job…

Now that you know what you want to capture, you need to think about how you are going to get those photos.

Does your company have a decent camera? These days it doesn’t need to be the fanciest, telephoto lens, 12-billion megapixel behemoth. You can buy a good quality digital camera for less than $500, or in a pinch just start using the camera on your phone! You may not be able to get as high a quality zoom, but you may get a great image that you can use for your annual report.

…Or find a pro

It’s worth contacting photographers in your area to find out if they have a passion for your mission. Sometimes they are willing to donate their time, or to work for a reduced rate, because they care about your cause. Others are just happy to not have to shoot another wedding.

Another avenue to explore is the local colleges and visual design schools. Students are always looking for ways to get experience or to finish a project for class and you can get some great quality images that way.

Prioritize again

If you are going to use a professional, or semi-professional photographer, sit down and figure out your budget. Can you bring them once, twice, more? After you know how many times you can use this photographer, prioritize which event or events are the most important to have the highest quality images that you can use for a lot of different purposes.

For instance:

  • If you’re getting a special award.
  • If you are planning programs in the community and can get shots of you fulfilling your mission.
  • At your annual gala. Who doesn’t like to look for a photo of themselves all dressed up and helping a cause that they passionately support?
  • If you work with kids! It presents a little extra work because you have to get waivers, but everyone loves to see a positive impact on children. The time you spend getting all the waivers is well worth it when you get that great picture of a happy child!

Find your heroes

In the end, you may take 100 shots, but if you get just one or two ‘heroes’ out of the event you’ll have great material to use later down the road. Don’t get too discouraged if you look through the photos and you aren’t thrilled with them for the first event or two; it is going to take you a little while to decide what exactly you want to capture and which images are going to be the most dynamic to tell your story.

Build a library

Once you get all those photos, start to build a visual library that your staff can access. That means keep it organized, and keep it simple. Yes, this post is about the annual report, but the images you capture will help you tell your story through your website, social media, and print materials throughout the year.

Just don’t do it

I’m talking about stock photos, of course. Do not use them! How many times have you seen these images and rolled your eyes. This guy has turned them into a Kafkaesque art form of the absurd.

Now put it all together

By the end of the year when it is time to put that report together you can enhance all that stellar copy and those informative graphs with some really terrific images. If you’re really feeling brave, you can take an even more radical approach and start to think about telling the year’s story from the pictures and use that as your starting point to build narratives that deepen the story in your images.

Over the past several years we, at the Seattle Chamber Music Soceity, have diligently begun to document all of our events. We have used more and more images to tell the story, we have reduced the text and used more infographics to state the facts along with all the photos. Our board members and funders have commented on how nice it is to see what we do, not just read about it.

With a little diligence and some careful planning you can build up a great library of your own to use for all of your organization’s needs!

Seneca Garber

Seneca Garber

Director of Marketing at Seattle Chamber Music Society
Seneca is a Northwest native and has worked for Seattle Chamber Music Society (SCMS) and Seattle Opera over the past 15 years. He leads the marketing and communication efforts for SCMS and is a frequent volunteer at arts organizations and with Seattle Works.
Seneca Garber
Seneca Garber