It’s undeniable. We live in an over stimulated world. Human attention spans are down to 8 seconds—that’s lower than goldfish! With all the noise competing for your supporters’ attention, how can you stand out? Through visual storytelling.

You need to create an emotional connection with your nonprofit organization. And nothing creates moving, emotional connections better than powerful visuals—which are processed 60,000 times faster than text!

Your organization has stories to share. By sharing them visually through your marketing materials, website, blog, e-newsletter— and especially through social media—you will trigger an emotional response that will gain support and inspire action. When it comes to social media in particular, you have the ability to reach out to and interact with millions of people for free. Even if you’re just starting out and have a small following, a compelling visual post that gets attention can grow exponentially and expand your reach and awareness of your cause. Images are highly sharable and can inspire viewers to do the awareness-spreading for you!

Interested in using visual storytelling to move your organization forward? Here are the eight steps I recommend.

1. Know what your audience wants

Think about the persona of your target audience. What type of information and interaction do they like to receive from you? Keep this top of mind as you work on your visual storytelling plan.

2. Do the research

Measure your past visual posts to see which ones performed and engaged the best. You can use tools like Twitter analytics, Facebook insights and Instagram Business Tools to monitor your social media success, or you can take a look back through your feeds to see which posts got the most likes, comments and shares. If your organization is new to visual content, take a look at what other organizations are doing and what is working for them and why.

3. Set goals and define a plan

With the research you have gained and your target audience top-of-mind, think about the goals you want to reach for the year. Make them specific, attainable and measurable. Do you want to increase attendance to your annual dinner by 10%? Do you want to increase the number of visitors to your donation page by 25% within the next 6 months?

Next, develop a quarterly or annual content strategy calendar based on your goals and the values of your organization. The content strategy calendar contains the big picture of your visual content and regular posts. This document is the key to helping you stay organized and on-schedule. There are free sample template calendars out there, but you can make one yourself.

The main idea is to have each month mapped out broadly along with another more specific calendar that breaks down the content weekly. The weekly calendars should include these categories: author, topic, title, social platform, link, type of post and posting time.

 4. Craft your stories

Your organization has a valuable message to share; think of how you can express this visually. Meet with your team to brainstorm visual story topics and ideas. For each idea, ask:

  1. Are these stories in line with our goals?
  2. Who are we and what do we want to project to our audience?

Here are a few story ideas to get you started:

  • Highlight the success story of someone receiving your services or build anticipation of your next big event by showing behind-the-scenes sneak peeks in advance.
  • Tell the story of a volunteer and why they chose to support your organization.
  • Show thanks to supporters with video messages starring your staff.

To add your own spin to any idea, and make the story truly authentic, always ask those two essential questions. When in doubt, keep things simple and focus on what makes you unique.

5. Make a visual content library

Based on your plan, you know what content you will be producing. Take the time to get your visuals together so you have everything ready for your posts. You should also get some filler-type images for backup in case your schedule goes off-course at any point. It’s always good to be prepared and have something ready. Your filler visuals could be a peek behind-the-scenes at your organization, testimonials from people that benefit from your programs or services, or your staff expressing their gratitude to your supporters. Use a shared drive or a cloud storage service like Dropbox to store and share your images with co-workers.

6. Get creative with visuals

Now it’s time to create your visual content. It’s important that your images align with your values, mission and brand. Vary your posts with a mix of visual content: photos, collages, images with text, infographics, user-generated content and video.

7. Get more mileage out of one story

Your story doesn’t have to just live on one social platform or blog. You can repurpose your story on multiple platforms to expand your reach and awareness. These examples from Charity Water are from a campaign that features a mix of user generated images, collage, images with text and a blog post.


8. Engage with your audience

It’s not enough to post interesting visual content alone; you must engage with your audience to keep the conversation going, make them feel part of your community and ultimately gain their support.

9. Track progress and stay flexible

Although you have a plan in place, it’s a good idea to set a weekly or bi-monthly staff meeting to touch base, make sure everything is on track and make any adjustments if needed. Check your analytics to see what type of visual posts are working the best for you and on which platforms. You can do this by using a simple excel spreadsheet. Set it up in columns by the month, with rows for all of your social media platforms and your website. Add the numbers you want to track to see how you are progressing towards your goals. I like to keep this process simple, but if you prefer more details, check the analytics more often or break down your spreadsheet by day or week. Pay attention to what works and adjust your strategy moving forward.

Ready to start telling visual stories?

Here are some easy tools to help you start implementing your visual storytelling plan right away.

Adding visual storytelling to your marketing strategy is something any organization can do, even if you have a small department or budget. All you need is dedication and a willingness to jump in and get started.

Happy storytelling!

Andrea Brody
Andrea Brody helps non-profits create change with engaging marketing materials—while keeping them on-track and on-brand. She has been running her own business for 10 years after designing for nonprofits, Disney and 20th Century Fox. With clarity, collaboration and creativity, Andrea has helped clients magnify their missions, gain support and create a beautiful big-picture.
Andrea Brody