When you go to the library, every book has its place, and there is a system that lets you easily find any book you need.

When your organization is using photographs, graphics and other visuals, the same concept applies. Because you’re dealing with multiple images and creating visuals for print marketing materials, social media, blog posts, e-newsletters and more, you need a system to keep everything organized and running smoothly. The most effective way to stay organized is to create a visual library.

A visual library is the main collection of all the photography and graphics for your nonprofit. It will include a wide variety of images (from event photos, to staff at work, to clients receiving services, to stock photos). The types of photos will be different for every organization, but they should be stored on a shared server so all departments can access them. Your exact system depends on what works best for you.

Here are my recommendations for creating a visual library:

Establish a location to share files

Have a shared network drive to house the original images that will be used in your organization’s print and online marketing materials. This shared drive will be the place where the marketing and development staff can gather all the images they need for their brochures, newsletters, social media, blog posts, etc. Organize the images in folders in a way that makes sense for the entire team (i.e. by departments, programs or events).

Create a file naming system

Have a consistent file naming system and stick to it. Make sure everyone on your team who creates social media visuals knows the guidelines for the file naming system and follows them. Besides keeping things organized and consistent, this helps avoid duplicating and resaving files, which always ends up in a confusing mess for you and your staff.

The naming system should be simple and straightforward so it is easy to follow. Always put an underscore or a dash between words in the file name. Here’s a simple example you can adapt to your needs. 2015_May_20_Gala_FB.jpg. This file naming structure starts with the social media post date information, then the event name/type, and ends with the social platform (Facebook). This is just a guide; you should use what you feel most comfortable with and what works best for you and your organization.

Use tags

Adding tags to your files makes them easy to find in searches. Use simple words or phrases. If you haven’t been tagging your images and have a huge image library, this may seem like an overwhelming task. Just start from today with your next batch of images and stick to it. When you can fit it into your schedule, you can start going back to old images and tagging them. The work upfront will pay off in the end. Think about how much time you’ve already spent searching for images! Here’s information on how to tag files on a Mac and on a PC.

Organize files in folders

Folders are like a virtual file cabinet to keep all of your social media visuals organized. Just like naming your files, you need to have a system set up for your folders to keep everything efficient. Because every organization works differently, the folder organization system needs to be determined by your organization and its workflow, but I’m going to show you an example you can adapt to your needs.

Organize in Folders[1]

Set up a system for viewing your images

If your organization has a large number of images, they can be overwhelming to sort through without some kind of a viewing program. Adobe Bridge has many features that can help you view and organize your visuals. Besides being able to view images easily with Adobe Bridge, you can compare images, make a collection of images and more. If you don’t have Adobe Bridge, Google Picassa is a free download that helps you view and organize your images. Here are some other free photo management software options.

Another thing I like to do is print out a contact sheet of my photos. You can do this in Adobe Bridge and Google Picassa. A contact sheet lets you see the big picture of all your photos at a glance. It can be printed out and becomes an easy-to-use resource for finding image names. You can also have captions under the images.

Create templates for visual posts

If you have layered Photoshop files with templates that you use regularly for your social media posts, keep those in a separate folder for easy access. It’s great to have a few templates handy for visual posts; it makes the process of creating the visuals easier and faster. If you’re not using Photoshop, Canva has free templates that you can upload your photos into.

Set up a folder for logos and brand elements

Like your templates, your organization’s logos, fonts and brand elements should be in a separate folder so you can easily access and apply them to your visual posts. If you are not the keeper of the brand assets, talk to the person at your organization who is about getting an organized folder with all these elements on the shared network drive so you can access them.

Remember to revisit the archives

Besides saving hard drive space on your computer, archiving can be a very useful tool. If you have recurring events, looking back into the archives can save a lot of time and effort when promoting future events. You can go back to the previous year in the archive and see what visuals you used to promote a particular event. Depending on the event, you can potentially repurpose the previous year’s visuals by just updating the date information. This can save busy nonprofit marketers hours upon hours. I recommend archiving your files every three months.

Back up files

Always back up your files. Whether it’s to your organization’s network server, external hard drive or both. Make this a daily habit.

Not sure you have the time? The benefits are worth it! A visual library not only helps manage your workflow, but also keeps you organized so you can stay focused on your strategy and meet your goals.

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.