Author’s note: This blog was originally written in 2015 and was updated in 2020 to reflect current information and practices.

If folklore is to be believed, a picture is worth a thousand words. In a time when our messages need to be short and sweet, yet informational, impactful and inspiring, nonprofit communicators can use all the help they can get. If an element of your message can be conveyed by a great photo, I say go for it! There are numerous stock photography sites offering images to help you tell your story.

People are drawn to photos

Whether you’re publishing a blog and need a compelling image to accompany the text, posting an inspiring quote to your social media channels, or livening up a presentation or report, photography can help you convey context and emotion. People are drawn to photography and imagery that conveys a part of the story the text may not fully capture; the nuances of the story that can be better demonstrated visually.

Finding the perfect image

With so much choice, the challenge comes in finding the perfect photo, conveying the right message, with a price and licensing rights that meet your needs. Fair warning: searching for the right one can test your patience. Lots of stock images you’ll find could be described as cheesy, some may be too low-resolution for your needs, or the price may not fit your budget. There are some goodies out there though so it’s worth the hunt.

When you’re ready to start your search, there are many stock photography sites to explore and the following list is meant as a place for you to start. Full disclosure – there are many to choose from and I haven’t used them all. This list was compiled based on sites I have used, tips from fellow marcom professionals regarding their favourites, and sites that have been highlighted on best-of lists I’ve tracked over the years.

12 stock photography sites for nonprofit organizations #NPMC Click To Tweet

Here are 12 stock photography sites to check out

Adobe Stock: this site offers a packet of free images to try them out. All graphics are hi-res and include royalty-free licensing and several membership packages are offered to meet a variety of needs.

Death to Stock: looking to provide creators with images that don’t look hokey or staged, Death to Stock is an artist-owned co-op that offers new images every month. 

Getty Images: creative, editorial, video and music files are available, under several licensing agreements, including rights-managed and royalty-free.

Good Stock Photos: Free to use anywhere for personal or commercial projects. Creator Steven explains that Good Stock Photos is a project of SparkFlow, his design firm, and was created to help people share their brand and story with the world.

Gratisography: creative and engaging photos, which they describe as “the world’s quirkiest collection of high-resolution free stock images, comprised of the world’s best, most creative pictures.” The images are offered under a free photo license.

Kaboompics: all photos can be used for free for commercial and noncommercial use, with full license info and FAQs here.

Little Visuals: offers high-resolution images for use in personal or commercial projects.

Negative Space: is a group of photographers who contribute their work to this global community. All of the photos are free in cost as well as free to use under a Creative Commons CC0 license.

Pexels: in their own words, “all photos and videos on Pexels can be downloaded and used for free” as per their license information.

Shutterstock: provides downloads of royalty free stock photos, vector files, videos, and music tracks.

Unsplash: the folks here keep their description to the point – their images are free, high-resolution, and made to be used freely – and their license supports that description.

Vintage Stock Photos: Find the perfect “of a certain era” photo here, made available under a free use license.

+1 Bonus for you: Canva is a drag and drop graphic design platform that also includes a large library of stock photography. A free account includes lots of options for photos and graphics, and the Pro account allows unlimited access to the full collection. They even offer the Pro account at no charge to nonprofits, so be sure to submit your application if you haven’t already!

Being true to your brand

Any image you choose should be in keeping with the brand guidelines that have been established for your organization. Think about things like photography style, colour palette and filters to ensure the overall look is what you’re going for. Anything you use should reflect your brand personality and I’d suggest not worrying about getting too perfect of an image. People like real and relatable photos, and if something’s too slick looking they’ll skip it.

Use yourself as the first reviewer: when looking at stock photography site options, which image does your eye go to first? Where does your gaze linger? Why? If your answers are the same as what you’re hoping your audience’s will be, you’ve got a winner.

Taking your message from good to great

No matter how you choose to tell your story, an image can enhance the idea or emotion you’re describing. Taking some time to incorporate a visual element to your storytelling will take your message from good to great.

Need stock photos for your nonprofit's communications? Here are 12 stock photography sites to check out #NPMC Click To Tweet
Angela de Burger

Angela de Burger

Angela de Burger is a communications professional who is passionately curious about the way individuals and organizations express themselves and connect to each other.